A Guide to Japanese Fashion Subcultures (Podcast Recap! S1E7)

A Guide to Japanese Fashion Subcultures (Podcast Recap! S1E7)

Introduction

In our seventh episode of the Nihongo Master podcast, we chatted about an interesting topic: Subculture Mania. Basically, all about the various subcultures in Japan.

Anyone with an interest in Japan will definitely have seen pictures online of all the weird and wonderful fashion out here: from girls dressed like 18th century toddlers to guys that look like they walked right off the set of the musical Grease. Contrast that with the sea of business suits you’ll see in every train station during rush hour, and it’s easy to see why their eccentricity stands out so much.

Generally speaking, the more conservative the culture, the weirder and wilder kinds of nonconformism you’ll find on its fringes. That’s why when it comes to subcultures in Japan, you either go big or go home — a touch of hair dye and a couple piercings just ain’t gonna cut it.

We looked at five different unique subcultures to find out who they are, where they came from, and what they wear. This article is a summary of what we talked about in the podcast, so if you find this interesting, check out the full episode on Apple Podcast or Spotify!

1. Lolita

Image Credit: Stereometric

The first on the list has got to be the prominent Lolita subculture — all about the “kawaii” aesthetic, which basically means trying to appear childlike and innocent, while sticking to traditional Japanese modesty at the same time. Yep, those girls you might have seen draped in lace, clutching parasols and speaking in voices so high pitched they could smash a glass.

How lolita came about began in the trendy neighbourhood of Harajuku — give episode 7 a listen to find out! 

I’ll briefly describe the lolita fashion: the unorthodox fashion style of Lolita is mostly influenced by the Victorian and Late Baroque periods of Europe, often mashed up with more modern design elements from other influences like punk and goth. Throughout the decades, Lolita has branched out into a couple of other sub-styles under the umbrella of the original. Want to know what they are? Yup, you guessed it — the full episode!

Ever heard of Harajuku Girls? Lolita was brought into the collective consciousness at large when singer Gwen Stefani released a song called “Harajuku Girl” in 2004.

Gwen Stefani had four backup dancers for her music video, and these girls were dressed in full Harajuku style, donning Lolita-esque babydoll dresses. The term soon became a byword for the quirky and vibrant trends of women’s style on the streets of Harajuku.

Lolita does stand for something more than just the dressing — check the episode out where we explained the unspoken notion this subculture stands for.

2. Visual Kei

Image Credit: May S. Young

Visual Kei was primarily a musical genre that combined punk and glam rock with kabuki (a type of traditional Japanese theatre). The distinctive visuals of these Visual Kei bands — comparable with the aesthetics of the likes of Motley Crue — soon became the primary image of the subculture. The pioneers of this music genre/subculture are said to be a heavy metal band called X Japan, formed in 1982.

This subculture is known to bend the rules of traditional masculinity, promoting androgyny and straight-up crossdressing. Need a visual description of exactly what makes a Visual Kei aesthetics? We went into detail in the podcast! But the key point is glam — lots and lots of glam. You’re always guaranteed to be one of the most flamboyant people in the room.

Both shojo (a manga genre aimed at teenage girls) and Visual Kei celebrate the idea of the ‘beautiful man’ — in a very feminized sense which is quite at odds with the tastes of a lot of North American and European women. This idea of the unattainable perfection of a young pretty guy is what draws in hordes of screaming fans towards Visual Kei bands. Although they might look a bit like Marilyn Manson, the overall effect is more similar to One Direction.

The whole idea of Visual Kei is to be different — and very noticeably so. Similar to Lolita, Visual Kei stands for something more — a movement of individual expression and exploration, through the means of dramatic performance as well as their everyday appearance. 

If you want to know more about Visual Kei, episode 7 has all you need to know about them!

 

3. Yankii 

Image Credit: keatl

Every country has its own counterpart to Japan’s Yankii, who are basically teenage tearaways. The Yankiis are kind of closely related to Japanese gangsters: the yakuza. Think of them as a younger, softer, less threatening version — Yakuza-lite, if you will. There’s a whole story behind the name Yankii — it’s a secret that’s only revealed in the podcast!

Usually, working class youths still in school (or gakkou) make up the Yankii subculture — that’s why Japanese society connects Yankii with juvenile delinquency. These teenage tearaways started their campaign of rebellion after World War II, when life was chaotic at best. The history of Yankiis go way, way back — a summary wouldn’t do it justice, so I suggest listening to the full episode. 

From the Yankii heyday of the 1980s to now, the image has included seifuku (school uniforms) that have been modified — shorter skirts for the girls and extremely baggy pants for the guys. In recent decades, there’s also been a swing away from motorbike gear, towards hiphop culture instead. But what remains consistent in pretty much every iteration of this rebellious youth demographic from the 50s until now is the hair — often dyed in blonde or red. The hair plays quite an important role in the look, as the 80s Yankii believed that a tight perm was a symbol of pride. 

Yankii members form a close-knit community, in which they stick together from school all the way through adulthood. Why this loyalty? I won’t tell you — but you know where you can go to find out why.

4. Japanese Rockabilly — Yoyogi Greasers

Image Credit: Wally Gobetz

The Japanese Rockabillies subculture might draw their cultural inspiration from the 1950s, but they’re very much alive and well in 2020 around the Yoyogi area in Tokyo — dance, music and amazing quiffs. Paying homage to the classic greasers of the 1950s, the Yoyogi greasers have formed an official dancing group called the Tokyo Rockabilly Club, who make a dance floor out of Yoyogi Park every Sunday.

It all started back in 1955 when the song “Rock Around the Clock” made its way to Japan, dominating the charts. Back then, you could sit by the radio for hours waiting to catch your favourite songs, buy the released record itself, or follow local performers who played covers. Generally that’s how this subculture came to be — but we explained the history in detail in the podcast!

The Japanese rockabilly subculture is committed to the aesthetics of the classic greasers — always in black leather, from top to bottom. Some of them kind of look like a crazy caricature of the Fonz, rather than a bona fida American rockabilly.

They also take the iconic pompadour hairstyle toneweights (literally), greased up to a comically big peak, and combed slickly at the sides with a ducktail at the back. As for the girls, their take on rock and roll culture can be a little more colorful. While some of them don all-black leather like the guys, other sport 1950s poodle skirts — polka dots and all — presenting themselves as swing dancers.

A revival of a fell-out-of-favour music genre through lively dance routines and dramatic visuals, the Yoyogi Greasers are definitely worth knowing about — no fights, no rebellion. Just music.

5. Gyaru 

Image Credit: alex de carvalho

We also talked about the gyaru subculture — derived from the English word “gal”. Emerging largely out of the blue in the 1990s, the “Gal” culture seeks to defy the traditional beauty standards of Japan, where fairer skin and dark hair are the definitions of beauty. 

The gyaru girls of this subcultural movement get heavy tans (hiyake in Japanese) for a much darker skin tone, and contrast this with bleach blonde or similarly light-toned hair. Short skirts and lower-cut cleavage make an appearance too, as does extensive make-up. Generally that’s an image of a Gyaru.

While the Yankii subculture has members from the working class, the Gyaru subculture started off with girls from the middle class and above. How and why, you ask? We revealed it all in the podcast! 

Basically, the subculture screams: “I can do whatever the hell I want!”

This rebellious fashion movement didn’t just stick to the world of the wealthy, and as the subculture became bigger and bigger with more participants, sub-styles were formed.

Some of these substyles were hardcore — we went through a few notable ones in the podcast — because the original Gyaru image that greatly resembles Western standard of beauty, they became the target of the very kind of attention it was trying to shake off. That called for greater extremes, with fake tans extremely dark, hair colours becoming bright neons, and the make-up became basically full-on face painting. 

So now it screams, “Do you think I’m sexy now, huh?”

Vocab Recap

If you’ve listened to episode 7, this is a compiled list of the Japanese vocabulary that we used throughout the episode. 

Kawaii (かわいい) – cute

Hime () – princess

Wanpisu (ワンピス) – a word for everyday dresses, jumpsuits and other similar clothing

Doresu (ドレス) – a word for fancier dresses

Kei (ケイ) – style

Kabuki (歌舞伎) – a type of traditional Japanese theatre which became really big in the Edo Era

Manga (漫画) – Japanese comic

Shojo (少女) – a manga genre targeted at a female audience

Oshare (おしゃれ) – fashionable 

gakkou (学校) – school 

Seifuku (制服) – school uniform

Fuku () – clothing

Mura () – village

Riizento (リーゼント) – a classic pompadour hairstyle

Jaketto (ジャケット) – jacket

Tebukuro (手袋) – gloves

Ongaku (音楽) – music

Dansu (ダンス) – dance

Utsukushisa (美しさ) – beauty, from the adjective utsukushi, to mean beautiful

Kessho (化粧, 仮粧) – make-up

Meiku (メイク) – the common slang word for make-up

Hiyake (日焼け) – tan 

Conclusion

These 5 subcultures just scratched the surface of the subculture scene in Japan. And this summary is barely an introduction to them all — do yourself a favour and listen to one of our most popular episodes to date: Episode 7 — Subculture Mania.

From mahogany-toned feminism, to high school biker wannabes, to crossdressing rockers, the subcultures here are undoubtedly some of the most unique in the world.

What is Sakura?

What is Sakura?

I bet you’ve heard about the Japanese sakura (, cherry blossoms). The flower and everything that comes with it takes up a huge part of the Japanese tradition that is extremely prominent to this very day. When it’s almost “sakura season” — a phrase that you often hear in Japan — every local has some sort of preparation to welcome the blooming of these pale pink blossoms. Foreigners that come to Japan have adopted similar practices during the sakura season.

What does matter is that sakura is a thing of the past, present and future of Japan. Let’s delve into everything you need to know about sakura — including the significance and practices that come along with it.

What is Sakura?

So what exactly is sakura? The word “sakura” is the Japanese name for a specific type of flower that grows on cherry blossom trees. Some might argue that it’s not any type of cherry blossom; it’s only the prunus serrulata, which is the Japanese cherry that is native to Japan as well as Korea and China. In the eyes of the Japanese, these cherry blossoms are the most beautiful Japanese flowers. 

Unlike the cherry trees, cherry blossom trees don’t produce fruit but instead bloom beautiful flowers. Blooming only once a year, there are quite a few types of Japanese cherry blossom trees spread all across the country. One particular variety that’s the most popular is the Somei Yoshino, a type of natural hybrid that produces pale pink flowers. Sakura became such an iconic image for the country that some people even call it Japan’s informal national flower. 

What does sakura symbolise in Japan?

The blossoming of these delicate and radiant flowers doesn’t just symbolise the beginning of spring; sakura holds quite the significance, with a rich history and identity in Japanese culture.

Initially, sakuras were used to predict the year’s harvest. Farmers kept an eye out for the blooming of sakuras to indicate to them the ideal time to plant their crops. Throughout time, it has become the representation of the Wabi-sabi philosophy — a Japanese aesthetics that centers itself on the acceptance of imperfection and temporariness while acknowledging the beauty in them — as well as Shinto ideals of impermanence and renewal. 

The blooming of the sakuras symbolises human mortality to many Japanese people; just like the flower, it is beautiful and brilliant during its strongest bloom but withers when the time comes, reflecting its fragility. There’s a Buddhist notion of “mono no aware” which has a loose meaning of bringing awareness to the impermanence of things which leads to the heightening awareness of their beauty — such notion is directed to the fragile sakura blooms. This reminds us of how short and precious life is. 

Other countries have the start of their school year in autumn, but the Japanese school year begins in April — during the cherry blossom season. That’s because sakura is a symbol of good luck and hope. 

Not only is it a cultural significance in Japan, but sakura is also a huge influence in the economy as well. Because of its deep roots in Japanese tradition, shops of various kinds fill their shelves with sakura-themed products — from food and drinks to wares and clothing.

A lot of Japanese art that features sakura in them carries the various symbolisms of the flower. This huge significance of sakura in Japan also brings about countless activities, events and festivals that centers around the blooming of these cherry blossoms.

When do sakuras bloom?

The “sakura season” — which refers to when the sakuras are in bloom and the sign of the start of spring — can be quite random. Regardless, it is such an anticipated season each year that there are tons of cherry blossom forecasts months before the expected bloom! This tracking of the blooming progression of the cherry trees is called the “sakura zensen” which translates to the cherry blossom front.

The sakuras are only in full bloom for about a week or so — adding to their magnificence and exclusivity. It doesn’t all bloom at once, though. The magical bloomings of these pink flowers are spread across a few months, from March to early May, throughout the diverse landscape of the country’s main islands. The Hawaii of Japan, Okinawa, is the first part of Japan to see the blooms of sakura in January, though. Then comes Tokyo, the capital city, that will be graced by the sakura blooms. The cherry blossom trees in northern Japan, Hokkaido, are the last ones to bloom — they’re expected to be in full bloom in May.

Because it’s so spread out across a few months, travellers wouldn’t have to worry so much about catching the perfect flight for the ideal week of sakura blooming — whichever time you are in Japan, as long as it’s within the months of March to May, you’re bound to see some pink blooms on your trip!

The “hanami” culture

Hanami (花見) is the activity of having a picnic underneath the cherry blossom trees, and it also has a long history behind it. This blossom viewing activity initially started way back in the Nara period, around 710-794. 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, around 794-1185. 

The Japanese people picked up this activity rather eagerly, and as the years go by, it became a Japanese tradition where every local celebrates every year. Regardless of social status and hierarchy — from samurais to commoners — all of the people of Japan would go out and celebrate the blooms of these pale pink flowers. 

This hanami culture is extremely present to this very day. And that’s not even the best part — even people of other cultures and traditions practice this social activity each spring in Japan. While it started as a local Japanese cultural event to observe the symbolic sakura during their short but beautiful blooming period, it is now a not-to-be-missed tradition of spring in The Land of the Rising Sun — regardless of race, religion and background. You’ll see groups of Japanese as well as foreigners under the blooming sakura trees with picnic mats and cans of alcoholic beverages, but what’s even more amazing is that in recent years, these groups start to intermingle and socialise with each other! Who would’ve thought that pale pink blossoms would bring people together when any other occasion wouldn’t be able to?

Where to hanami?

Of course, the question is then: where is the best place to take part in hanami? The short and simple answer is, anywhere in Japan! The country is flooded with cherry blossom trees, so many that you’ll come across at least a few on just your walk from your accommodation to the station. 

But if you’re looking for the ultimate hanami experience, there are a few go-to locations for the all-out hanami culture.

Tokyo gets one of the first few blooms in all of Japan, so travellers tend to stop by the capital city when seeking out cherry blossoms. For first-timers of hanami in Tokyo, get the full atmosphere at Yoyogi Park — it’s arguably the best spot to drink till you’re drunk from midday while bathing in the pinks of the sakura. It’s a huge park in the center of the city — you’ll be able to go anywhere from here; maybe to a bar to continue your drinking adventures? 

Ueno Park is another one that I highly recommend; it can get quite crowded and overpacked on the weekends, so the best time on weekdays to have a bit of breathing room. 

The next biggest city in Japan is Osaka, which also has its fair share of awesome hanami locations. Kill two birds with one stone by heading over to the Osaka Castle Park — not only will you get your hanami game on, but you’ll also be able to sightsee and visit the famous Osaka Castle. Can a hanami experience get any better than that?

Coming from the biggest sakura enthusiast ever, trust me that you’re better off searching for a local park nearby for the most authentic hanami — my favourite spot in all of Japan is a small river just by my house, with walking paths next to the stream and cherry blossom trees lining the whole stretch.

Conclusion

Sakuras aren’t just beautiful pale pink flowers that take over the landscape of Japan in the months of spring — they have quite a background and significance in the Japanese culture. From being the symbol of life to a celebration that brings people together, there is no doubt that these cherry blossoms are here to stay and continue to dominate the spring season of the Land of the Rising Sun — and they’re more than welcome to; we all love a full, blossoming sakura spring!

Japanese Mountains: Hiking & Climbing 101

Japanese Mountains: Hiking & Climbing 101

Introduction

Love nature? Want to climb a few mountains when you’re in Japan? You’ve come to the right place for everything you need to know about that. Japan has its bright neon lights and futuristic technology, but don’t forget about the nature aspect of this country. The Land of The Rising Sun has more than a few awesome mountains. 

There are a couple of other tall mountains right after the great Mt. Fuji that deserves the same amount of love. Why follow the beaten track when you can venture elsewhere with a more authentic experience? Get your fill of historical and geographical knowledge about these towering volcanic peaks that hold great religious and cultural significance in the Japanese tradition. 

Levels of Hiking and Climbing in Japan

You might be thinking, “there’s no way I’d climb a mountain!” Trust me, I’ve said that a million times. But then, when you’re in Japan, it’ll be a shame to not climb one.

About 73% of the island is mountainous; of course, it’s only natural that a vibrant climbing and hiking culture developed throughout the years. There’s no “norm” duration or distance when it comes to climbing or hiking in Japan — it can go anywhere from a day trip to a long, multi-day trek through various national parks. Everywhere from beginner to expert with various climate sets and challenges, there’s a mountain in Japan for you. 

If you’re a beginner, tackling the easy ones is probably the best way to start your journey. There are tons of mountains that are best for casual day hikes that have been travelled by thousands and thousands of people. These mountains are more often easily accessible by public transport and there are probably accommodation options pretty close. No gear needed — even children can come along if they want to!

Want a bit of a challenge? Go for the intermediate-range where there are sections that are steep, long or both. If you consider yourself of average athletic ability, these mountains won’t be too difficult. You may want your hiking boots for this, but they’re not that necessary if you don’t want to add weight to your baggage.

The experts of mountain climbing — you have your fair pick of mountains in Japan to climb. The difficult ones are full of long and strenuous trails; some might even require navigation skills for you to go through them. These ones definitely require the right gear and attire, so if you’re into that, Japan has exciting challenging mountains for you.

Difference Between Hiking and Climbing

Sometimes, people confuse mountain hiking and mountain climbing. Fair enough, there is a small overlap between them, but there are quite a few differences. 

Mountain hiking is more often than not leisurely. It is basically a long-distance walk along a trail that’s likely to cover a few different parts of the country. Most of the time, mountain hiking involves a steady, gentle slope so the pace of the hikes is just as balanced. Mountain hiking can be done in a day or even a few days, but the key point is that it’s more casual.

Mountain climbing, however, is a challenging sport that involves climbing steep and rocky slopes to get to the top. Sometimes, proper equipment is needed for this such as ice axes and rope. Unlike mountain hiking, mountain climbing does take a toll on one’s physical strength as it is not just walking up a slope but also using every muscle in the body to overcome obstacles. 

Climbing Season in Japan

While you can climb the mountains in Japan at any time of the year, the country does announce the official climbing season. It’s usually the duration of time where the conditions are best for climbing — mountains are usually free of snow, the weather is milder, mountain huts and accommodation are operating and more public transportation is available. 

Usually, the official climbing season is from early July to mid-September. During this time, which is the summer season, the mountains are the best for climbing. Those without much hiking or climbing experience are advised to tackle the mountains during this time. Watch out for the exact dates for the climbing season as each year is different from the previous one.

Japan’s Tallest Mountains

Okay, you’ve gotten the basics for the climbing and hiking down. Now, which mountain in Japan should you tackle first? Let’s have a look at a handful of the tallest mountains in Japan!

Mount Fuji

Of course, Mt. Fuji is at the top of the list. It is not only the most iconic but also the tallest mountain in all of Japan, after all. Most of us look at Mt. Fuji from afar; the best views of this tallest peak are from the Yamanaka Lake in Yamanashi Prefecture, but you can basically see it anywhere from the surroundings of 120 kilometers.

Also known as Fuji-san, this mountain is climbed by almost half a million people every year! At 3,776 meters in height, Japan’s most celebrated peak is also a World Cultural Heritage site since 2013 due to its major significance and artistic history of Japan. This mountain in Shizuoka Prefecture has thousands of tourists that travel up to the fifth station just for sightseeing and not even climb to the peak at all! 

For those looking to climb the tallest mountain in Japan, there are four trails you can follow to reach the top of the peak — Yoshida Trail, Fujinomiya Trail, Subashiri Trail and Gotemba Trail. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular one, which means it’s the busiest and most crowded of them all. Fujinomiya Trail is the shortest route of only four and a half hours, but be prepared for the highest starting elevation of 2400m! Gotemba is the longest route of seven and a half hours with the lowest starting elevation of 1440m.

There’s an old Japanese proverb that was specially modified for foreigners which go, “if you come to Japan and don’t climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool; if you climb it more than once, you’re an even bigger fool!”

Mount Kita

Image Credit: Issey Niwa

At 3,193 meters is Mt. Kita in Yamanashi Prefecture. It’s the tallest non-volcanic mountain in all of Japan, located in Southern Alps city, and is the second-tallest mountain in the country. Unlike Mt. Fuji where there are a few trails that don’t cross each others’ paths, Mt. Kita only has two trails that go in a loop — so you can do one going up and the other going down.

One thing to note is that the mountain huts are on the right-hand trail, so if you’re looking to stay the night, be sure to start off on the left side so that you can reach the huts before you head back down.

Mt. Kita is part of the Japanese Alps, and the mountains in this region are already prepared with built-in ladders, chains, ropes and stairs to help you with your climbing journey. That’s a great point to know so you won’t need to overpack if you’re planning on climbing this peak. 

You can easily climb Mt. Kita in just a weekend without any trouble — you’ll roughly need 6-8 hours for the climb up and about 3-5 hours for the journey down.

Mount Oku-Hotaka

Image Credit: annintofu

The third on the list is Nagano Prefecture’s very own Mt. Oku-Hotaka. At 3,190 meters, this mountain would have been the second tallest one in Japan if it had just two average women’s height more — but alas it didn’t. It is the tallest mountain in the Northern Japan Alps, though. Nonetheless, it does have the reputation of being one of the rockiest mountains in Japan, hence it’s not recommended for those who aren’t advanced climbers.

People who climb Mt. Oku-Hotaka often climb it alongside climbing Mt. Yari (which is the fifth mountain on this list) as it has two loop routes that cover both mountains. The routes do start off leisurely before it gets drastically steeper. There are a few stops along the way for lunch and some mountain huts for an overnight rest. 

Some say that the summit of Mt. Oku-Hotaka is not that interesting, but stay overnight for the sunrise and you’ll get an amazing view of it rising above a layer of clouds. What’s more, the panoramic views from the top is one of the most magnificent views of the Northern Japan Alps.

The descent down the mountain is one of the hardest parts — you’d have to go down the Daikiretto, which translates to “Big Cut” in Japanese. While there are ropes, chains and ladders at this section, don’t waver for a second. This bit involved a 300-meter drop that’s essentially vertical and followed by another 300m climb back up. It is considered dangerous and there have been lives lost of those attempting to scale Mt. Oku-Hotaka, hence it’s definitely inadvisable for inexperienced climbers.

Mount Aino

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Just a meter behind Mt. Oku-Hotaka for its third place title, Mt. Aino stands at 1,189 meters. Located in Shizuoka Prefecture, this mountain has a peak that’s extremely wide — some even got lost there! The peak is also known as the Aino Dome. 

The view is one to look forward to; you’ll get to see the upper half of the tallest mountain in Japan, sticking out of the sea of clouds, just about 50km away from Mt. Aino’s peak. 

Those who climb Mt. Aino also climb Mt. Shiomi on the same day — this is a popular climbing journey taken by tons of climbers throughout the years. More advanced climbers combine a few other mountains nearby this one and go on a three or four-day journey, tackling all of them at once. If you’re confident in your ability, it’s definitely a journey worth experiencing.

Mount Yari

Image Credit: Kirill Skorobogatov

Last but definitely not least, Nagano Prefecture’s Mt. Yari takes the position of the fifth tallest mountain in Japan. The mountain got its name for being sharp like a spear — “yari” in Japanese means spear. It’s also known as the Matterhorn of Japan as it resembles the famous peak in the Swiss Alps.

Most of the climb up this mountain won’t be as straining as some others, but the last 100 meters or so will give the less experienced climbers a bit of an adrenaline rush; it is pretty steep and can get quite congested — so much that there’s an up and down route to separate the crowd. Rest assured the summit of Mt. Yari is worth the tiny bit of hassle. 

It’s best to take a break before going down as it can be too much hiking for one day. The way down is long and quite strenuous; even the most experienced climbers have a night’s rest before continuing their journey.

Conclusion

Now that you have an overview of the tallest mountains in Japan, you can decide and take your pick on what you think is best for your level of skill and stamina. In this field, it’s better to underestimate yourself than overestimate; you’re better off starting with a leisurely mountain than take on one that’s way out of your comfort zone. With all that in mind, regardless of what mountain you choose to go on for your climbing or hiking adventure, trust that at every peak, a breathtaking view awaits you!

All You Need to Know About Japan’s Emperors (Podcast Recap! S1E13)

All You Need to Know About Japan’s Emperors (Podcast Recap! S1E13)

In our 13th episode of Nihongo Master podcast, we came to you as an ambassador for the royal family of Japan — chatting about the lives and times of the emperors. The royals are still a pretty big deal here. 

The imperial monarchy of Japan is the oldest royal dynasty anywhere in the world. We know for sure that this same family has been in power — in one form or another — for at least 1500 years. Although, if Japanese legend is to be believed, that number is closer to 2650 years!

If you want to understand how the Japanese people relate to their imperial family, you only have to look at a select few — a greatest hits of some of the most influential royals ever to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne.

This is a recap of the full episode, so if you’d like to hear more about it, head over to Apple Podcast or Spotify to check it out!

#1. Emperor Jimmu

We looked at the very first emperor, Emperor Jimmu, linked to the Shinto myths about the creation of the world itself. Jimmu, the very first Yamato Dynasty Emperor, reigned for an impressive 75 years, from 660 to 585 BC. He’s believed to be the grandson of the sun — the actual sun. 

We won’t go into detail about how it all came about — so if you’re interested, the quickest way to get your answers is if you head over to the Nihongo Master podcast and have a listen to episode 13!

Jimmu did what all emperors do: he started conquering kingdoms. While moving through modern-day Osaka, he eventually met his match in a local warlord who served the ruler of modern-day Nara and had to back off to lick his wounds, losing his brother along the way. 

Because he was the grandson of the sun, he didn’t have to lay down and accept defeat. His godly grandma sent a vision to one of his advisers which showed a magical sword hidden nearby. He then brought the sword to Jim, and they continued on their way. 

That’s not all — because the eastern approach to ancient Nara was pretty tricky to navigate, the sun goddess sent a guide to help: a three-legged crow called Yatagarasu. We mentioned him before, in our Fantastic Beasts episode (episode 4). 

With a magic sword and a talking animal companion, of course, Jimmu succeeded in his conquering of the cities and established a dynasty.

So do the Japanese people themselves genuinely believe in these myths? We had a bit of contemporary discussion in the episode, so give it a listen to hear more about how these myths came about and what the Japanese people really believe happened.

#2. Empress Suiko

We jumped forward around 1000 years to 593 AD for a healthy dose of girl power. The legal ban of having a ruling empress is a pretty recent development — throughout history, Japan has actually had eight different empresses sitting on its throne. The longest-reigning of them all was also the very first: Empress Suiko. As the 33rd head of the dynasty, she was the ruler of Japan for a full 35 years, from 593 to 628 AD.

There were a lot of deaths involved that put her into power — and we broke it down briefly in the podcast episode. Empress Suiko had to step in to put an end to all of the bickerings between the boys of the two clans, the Mononobes and Sogas. They had fought a war over the last emperor, and it looked like they would be going at it again unless a neutral leader could step up to quieten things down. So that’s exactly why Empress Suiko was chosen to take on the proper title of empress. 

Together with her nephew, the crown prince, they spread Buddhism throughout Japan, established diplomacy with China, and brought a lot of Chinese innovations to the country, including the calendar and political system. 

So Empress Suiko’s ruling sounds like a huge win for women in Japan, but why the ban on women becoming empress? Similarly, we had a contemporary discussion in the podcast episode — talking about how the imperial palace was made into a boys-only club, and how the current Emperor only has a daughter…what would become of Japan’s royalty line? Will we finally see another empress on the throne in this lifetime? 

#3. The Meiji Emperor

We jumped way forward down the line of succession, to 1868, when one Prince Mutsuhito inherited the throne after the death of his father the year before, and with it took the name, Emperor Meiji. This was the start of probably the most important part of Japanese history: the Meiji Era.

If you’ve ever been to Japan before, you’ll know that it’s not all kimonos and pagodas; this is a thoroughly modern country with a lot of international influences. After visiting a centuries-old shrine, you can go grab a hamburger. And after a long hard day at work, you can slip out of your business suit and into a traditional yukata robe for a dip in an onsen. This mix of the familiar and uniquely Japanese is part of what makes Japan such an easy place to travel in. And for that, the first person we have to thank is Emperor Meiji. 

Before the Meiji Era, Japan was pretty much completely closed off to the outside world, but, seeing how the rest of the world was racing ahead of them, some influential feudal lords of the day decided it was time to leave the old feudalist ways behind. 

The first step was to get rid of the Shogun — the military leader of Japan, who actually held more power than the emperor himself — and they did. With his full power restored for the first time in almost 700 years, the emperor went about giving his country a total Western makeover. 

This meant business suits and Western casual clothes; trams on the avenues and railways connecting the cities; flushing toilets and modern sewage systems; street lights and paved roads; newspapers and the Gregorian calendar; and universities to educate the public; oh, and Western food.

But…there was a darker side to all this modernization because at the same time, Japan was upgrading its military with lots of deadly new tools. In fact, some of the samurai who helped put the Meiji Emperor on the throne found themselves at the wrong end of his new guns during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, as they felt short-changed by the fact that they’d lost nearly all of the privileges they once enjoyed.

After putting down the angry samurai, Meiji-san went on a bit of a rampage of wars around Asia, conquering Korea, parts of China, Taiwan, and part of Russia. What’s more, the government also fought a political war against Buddhism, and promoted Japan’s native Shinto religion instead. And for the first time ever, they started promoting the idea that the Emperor himself was a literal Shinto god…

Things kind of went a bit crazy, and Japanese nationalism was at an all-time high. About 30 years after Emperor Meiji’s 1912 death, all of this mad propaganda would eventually lead to…well…

Our contemporary discussion for this part talked a bit about Japanese politics — nothing too heavy, but some stuff that you’d want to know if you’re ever thinking about settling down here permanently. The wounds from those wards with China and Korea are still pretty raw…

#4. The Reiwa Emperor

The final emperor we talked about was the current one. Although his name is Emperor Naruhito, Japanese monarchs traditionally take a new name to match the new era they ring in, so he’s now technically named Emperor Reiwa. 

And you might well be wondering, who chooses the name for the era? Well… it’s a whole traditional process that we discussed in the episode, so you should definitely listen to it for the answer to that question! 

Emperor Reiwa’s enthronement ceremony was quite a big deal too. It took place in October 2019 and representatives from pretty much every country on earth joined. The area around Tokyo’s imperial palace was also packed with royalists and tourists looking to absorb a little history in the making. If those crowds were any indication, it seems like the Japanese royal family is still doing pretty well. 

Naruhito and his wife — Kōgō Masako — enjoy a pretty decent amount of admiration. Kyodo News puts the figure somewhere around 75%, meaning about three-quarters of the country have a generally favourable opinion or better — they’re charitable, gentle, maybe a little boring. However, there’s still a sense among a lot of Japanese people that… they don’t really matter. 

Since they don’t get involved in politics, they’re basically just symbolic. The new Japanese constitution stated that the emperor was totally banned from participating in politics. Nowadays, the Japanese royal family stays waaaay away from all of that — the emperor is even less politically powerful now than in the days of the shogun. 

But, remember, he is still the head of the Shinto religion.

Vocab Recap

Densetsu (伝説) — legend

Tennō (天皇) — emperor

Amatsukami (天津神) — the original heavenly gods in Japanese shinto

Karasu (カラス) — crow

Mon (紋) — a Japanese family clan emblem.

Kiku (菊) — chrysanthemum,

Kōgo (交互) — the wife of the emperor

bukkyō (仏教) — buddhism

Daimyō (大名) — a feudal lord and head of a family clan in old Japan

Musuko (息子) — son

Musume (娘) — daughter

Daigaku (大学) — university 

Yōshoku (洋食) — Western-style food

sensō (戦争) — war

Gaijin (外人) — a slang term for foreigner, which is short for the more polite term gaikokujin (外国人). 

Uyoku dantai  (右翼団体)— right-wing groups

Sayoku (左翼) — left-wing

Kenkoku Kinen no hi (建国記念の日) — National Foundation Day, on February 11th

Jidai (時代) — era

ginkō (銀行) — bank

Kōkyo (皇居) — the imperial palace in Tokyo

Kekkonshiki (結婚式) — wedding

Kenpō (憲法) — constitution

Four very different emperors/empresses, who reveal four very different facets of Japanese culture and society. I’d say that understanding the lives and times of these four rulers is pretty key to understanding modern Japan and how it came to be.

It’s a place of ancient myths which still affect and enrich daily life; a place where women can often be relegated to the sidelines; a place where national identity has a sometimes ambivalent relationship with the outside world; and where, despite all that, the vast majority of the people continue to update their attitudes to fit with the modern times, while still holding onto their unique traditions and heritage. 

So what are you waiting for? Head over to Apply Podcast or Spotify for the full episode!

A Guide to Japanese Fashion Subcultures (Podcast Recap! S1E7)

All You Need to Know About Japanese Cuisine! (Podcast Recap! S1E6)

Introduction

In our sixth episode of the Nihongo Master podcast, we talked about a topic that’s really close to my heart: food, glorious food. 

Food is the quickest way to the heart of any culture, but when it comes to Japan, you might struggle to decide exactly where to start! The food culture here is as diverse as it is rich, with dozens of individual cuisines making up the national culinary repertoire. 

We headed to some of the grubby local diners of Osaka, some of the oldest restaurants in Kyoto, and some of the fanciest sushi joints in Tokyo to learn why Japan has such a stratospheric reputation when it comes to good grub. 

This article is merely a recap of what we chatted about in the podcast — for the full thing, give Episode 6 a listen. You won’t regret it!

1. Kaiseki

It’s not particularly famous outside of Japan, but kaiseki is a big deal on the culinary scene here. Basically, at a kaiseki restaurant, you’ll be sitting along a counter with room for only a handful of people, while a highly skilled chef cooks up a series of small dishes in front of you.

There can be anything from around 10 to a few dozen courses included, but you won’t have any say in what’s served. That’s because kaiseki meals are strictly omakase — a word which essentially means “chef’s choice”. The dishes which the chef chooses are based heavily on the seasons and daily availability at the markets.

Kaiseki has a rich history — in the podcast, we talked about it in detail. Long story short: this hospitality aspect harks way back to the very start of kaiseki in the courtly culture of imperial Kyoto. The cuisine started as part of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies which the upper classes would put on to entertain their guests.

Kaiseki can include various types of dishes — we got into them more in the podcast. Generally, there’s a specific sequence which the dishes usually follow, starting with a seasonal platter, moving through soups, sashimi, charcoal-grilled dishes, and more, before finishing up with a seasonal rice bowl.

If all that intrigues you, go and listen to our podcast, episode 6!

2. Sushi

You know sushi right? This rice and fish dish is famous worldwide, but nowhere will you get it fresher than in Japan itself. 

The best thing about sushi in Japan is that, unlike kaiseki, you can enjoy it on any budget. There are cheap places like sushi-go-rounds/sushi-trains where you can grab any dish from the conveyor belt for 100 yen, midrange places where you get to watch the chefs cook everything fresh, and high-end places which take that another level and make it a kind of theatre. 

Sushi as we know it is very Japanese, but it actually has its roots in Southeast Asia — surprise, surprise! We talked about the history of sushi even more in the podcast episode, so I’m not spoiling the surprise here. It’s a pretty interesting story of how sushi did come to Japan — I highly recommend you to give it a listen.

The most prized fish among sushi connoisseurs is bluefin tuna. However, not all sushi toppings are fish either: there are dishes with raw beef, vegetables like cucumber and carrot, egg (such as tamagoyaki rolled omelet sushi), and if you go to some of the cheap modern chains you’ll even get stuff like cooked salmon with mayonnaise, or creamed corn sushi!

3. Shojin Ryori 

Image Credit: kon_2710

We visited the temple to look at the food enjoyed by Buddhist monks of Japan — called Shojin Ryōri. Shojin basically translates to “devotion” while ryōri means “cuisine”:  making this, the ‘food of the devoted’. 

This type of cuisine has deep roots in Buddhism and its practices, and if you’re interested in why and how it came about, we explained it all in the podcast episode! Long story short, it comes from the belief of reincarnation, which led to their cuisine is plant-based, with the majority of dishes being either vegetarian or vegan friendly. 

Not only was this food good for animals, but it was also said to be good for the soul: a clean, all-natural cuisine that became a part of daily purification rituals for monks seeking enlightenment. Normal people took on a lot of the philosophy and dishes of shojin ryōri too — it’s maybe part of the reason the Japanese have the second-highest life expectancy in the world.

There are a lot of fantastic dishes in the temple cuisine, and it’s making a bit of a comeback nowadays thanks to an uptick in the number of vegan tourists from the West. Because it’s all about clean eating, and clearing the body and mind of impurities, the fare is usually quite simple. To know what the dishes usually consist of, listen to the full episode on Spotify or Apple Podcast!

4. Street Food

There’s plenty of fantastic street food and fast food which come from here. Each region has its own specialties, but one city that really stands out is Osaka. This is the home of takoyaki, a kind of pan-cooked octopus dough ball, and okonomiyaki, a savory pancake loaded with meat, vegetables, and sometimes soba noodles. Fast food like this has long been popular in Japan because, as anyone who’s ever lived here knows, the Japanese are just so damn busy! 

Street food in Japan all came from takoyaki — how, you ask? Well, you just have to listen to the full episode to find out!

There is other street food than octopus. There are loads of skewered meat like yakitori and kushikatsu. If you don’t know what they are, we talk about them and their differences in the episode. There are also loads of different varieties of old fast-food classics. Some of them are regional, for example the okonomiyaki from Hiroshima contains soba noodles, and has the pretty unimaginative name hiroshimayaki. 

If you want to dive headfirst into this world of tasty street treats, head to Dotonbori in Osaka — a street food Mecca where you can try pretty much the whole range of Japanese fast-food.

5. Ramen

We obviously couldn’t leave ramen out of this list. Anyone who pulled all-nighters at university to get their overdue papers finished will be very familiar with our final Japanese food. Although, if you’ve only ever tried the cheap packaged varieties which line the shelves of supermarkets worldwide, you’re really missing out. In Japan, and some trendy cities around the world, ramen restaurants take the simple concept of noodle soup and turn it into a fully-fledged cuisine.

In fact, there are over 10,000 ramen restaurants across Japan, of all shapes and sizes!

Many of these places have their own specializations and house recipes. It’s pretty obvious why ramen is such a popular and iconic Japanese dish, but you might be surprised that it technically isn’t even Japanese at all. What is the history behind it then? Check out our full episode to find out!

There are more than a few types of ramen — shio (or salt) ramen, shōyu (or soy sauce) ramen, miso ramen, and tonkotsu ramen which has a pork-bone broth. Specialised ramen bowls are even available at any and all ramen shops. How do you customise one? We talk you through all the steps you need in the full episode!

Vocab Recap

In every episode, we have a podcast recap after each section. Here is where we combine them all for our listeners to have a physical list — and for potential new ones to learn a few new words, too!

Omakase (お任せ) —  chef’s choice dining, which can mean “I’ll leave it up to you” when ordering

Omotenashi (おもてなし) — classic Japanese hospitality

Sadō (茶道) — tea ceremony (also sometimes called chadō)

Wagashi (和菓子) — traditional Japanese sweets

Mochi (もち) — a paste made from crushed rice

Gohan (ご飯) — a cooked rice dish, although this world can also simply mean “meal” in general

Dashi (だし) — the foundational soup stock of Japanese cuisine

Sushi-ya (寿司屋) — sushi restaurant: actually the -ya suffix can be used for several foods to give the name of their restaurants, like “ramen-ya” and “soba-ya”.

Funazushi (鮒寿司) — Shiga Prefecture’s historic fermented fish dish

Nigiri (にぎり) — the rectangular pieces of sushi

Maguro (マグロ) — bluefin tuna 

Tamagoyaki (卵焼き) — a Japanese rolled omelet 

Sōryo (僧侶) — Buddhist monk (although there are many more words for various types and ranks)

Shojin (書人) — devotion

Ryōri (料理) — cuisine. This one is very useful, as you can also use it to talk about your country’s food too. Italian cuisine is “itaria ryōri” — American cuisine is “amerika ryōri”.

Sukiyaki (すき焼き) — a kind of Japanese hotpot dish usually eaten with beef, and a sweet sauce

Renkon (レンコン) — lotus root

Takenoko (タケノコ) — bamboo shoots

Takoyaki (たこ焼き) — batter balls with octopus inside

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) — a savory pancake layered with vegetables, meat and other fillings

Yatai (屋台) — street food stalls 

Yaki (焼き) — a wide word for cooking over direct heat, including grilling and pan-frying

Kushikatsu (串カツ) — breaded and deep fried skewers

Chashu (チャーシュー) — braised pork usually served in ramen

Tsukemen (つけ麺) — a dipping noodle style of ramen

Shio () — salt

Shōyu (醤油) — soy sauce 

Futomen (太麺) — thick noodles

Hosomen (細麺) — thin noodles

Futsū (普通) — normal

Katame (固め) — firm

Yawarakami (柔らかみ) — soft

Conclusion

Okay, and that concludes our recapped culinary tour of Japan! This is merely just a consolidated version of the full episode, and what you read here is barely half of what we chatted about in the podcast. If you love food, especially Japanese cuisine, why not listen to Episode 6 of our Nihongo Master Podcast? Available on Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Particles

Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Particles

Introduction

When you’re just starting to learn Japanese, you’d be stumped by the number of particles they haave. Japanese particles are small words which are used in between other words to show the relations of the sentence. I admit, when I first started learning Japanese, I was extremely confused by everything! Some of them have the same usage for me!

Not to worry, here, we’ll clarify all the Japanese particles — or at least most of them, the common ones — with examples of its usage. 

Japanese; Learning Language with Handwritten Hiragana Character Cards

は (wa/ha)

The most common Japanese particle is wa は (wa/ha). This always followed the topic of the sentence, hence this particle is often called the topic marking particle. The topic can be anything from the subject, object and sometimes even verbs. 

Here’s a general formation of this particle:A は B です。

A wa B desu.

A is B.

Here’s an example sentence: 

明日は休みです。

Ashita ha yasumi desu.

Tomorrow is a holiday.

が (ga)

The next particle, が (ga), is similar to the previous one. However, the difference is that this particle is used when you’re first introducing the subject or when you’re emphasizing something to distinguish it from the rest. 

Here’s an example sentence:

つくえのうえにほん が あります。

tsukue no ue ni hon ga arimasu

There is a book on the desk.

に (ni)

The Japanese particle に (ni) is used to indicate a place that something is moving towards. Usually, the following word after it is a moving verb. 

It is also used when you’re receiving something from someone, which then it has the meaning of “from”, but that’s a whole other article all together.

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Place に verb.

I’m (verb) to (place).

Here’s an example sentence: 

コンビニに行きます。

Konbini ni ikimasu.

I’m going to the convenience store.

へ (e/he)

The Japanese particle へ (e/he) is kind of similar to に but the difference is that へ emphasises the direction over the arrival. This particle is specifically for directions, whereas に can be used for other directional usage. 

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Location へ verb

Here’s an example sentence: 

彼女へ本をあげました。

Kanojo he hon wo agemashita.

I gave her a book.

で (de)

This Japanese particle, で (de), is also related to location. This one indicates the location of the action rather than the direction. 

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Location で ….

Here’s an example sentence: 

プールで泳ぎました

Pu-ru de oyogimashita.

I swam in the pool.

を (wo)

The を (wo) particle is used to mark the object of the sentence. Usually, it follows nouns or noun phrases. 

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Noun を verb

Here’s an example sentence: 

私はパンケーキを食べました.

Watashi ha panke-ki wo tabemashita.

I ate pancakes.

も (mo)

This Japanese particle も (mo) acts like the English word “too” or “also”. It’s used, similarly in English, when something said previously is also true for the current state. When this particle is used, other particles like ga, wa or wo is replaced.

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Noun は Property/Action です。

Noun も Property/Action です。

Here’s an example sentence: 

私はペンがあります。

私もペンがあります。

Watashi ha pen ga arimasu.

Watashi mo pen ga arimasu.

I have a pen.

I also have a pen.

と(to)

The と (to) particle is like the English word (and). It connects two nouns together to make a single noun. 

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Noun と noun と noun……

Here’s an example sentence: 

パンとご飯とパスタが好きです。

Pan to gohan to pasuta ga suki desu.

I like bread, rice and pasta.

や (ya)

Similar to the previous particle, や (ya) is used kind of like “and”, but it can translate to “such things as…”

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

A や B や…

Here’s an example sentence: 

日本の都市には東京や大阪があります

nihon no toshi niwa toukyou ya oosaka ga arimasu.

In Japan, there are big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, etc.

の (no)

This Japanese particle, の (no) indicates possession. In English, it’s kind of like the apostrophe-s (‘s). It has the meaning of “it belongs to,..”.

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Noun の noun

Here’s an example sentence: 

私の名前はアズラです。

Watashi no namae wa azura desu.

My name is Azra.

から (kara)

The Japanese particle から (kara) is used to indicate the source of an object or action. It can translate as “from” in English. If used as a point in time, it can be translates as “since” or “after”.

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Noun から…

Here’s an example sentence: 

学校から帰りました.

Gakkou kara kaerimashita.

I came from school.

まで (made)

The まで (made) particle is usually used with the previous particle. It shows the extent of an action or period of time. It can be translated as “until”.

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Noun まで…

Here’s an example sentence:

8時から18時まで買い物に行きました。

Hachi-ji kara juu-hachi-ji made kaimono ni ikimashita.

I went shopping from 8AM to 6PM.

ね (ne)

This next particle ね (ne) is used at the end of sentences. It’s like a rising intonation that’s kind of like a question tag to ask for confirmation from the listener. It’s used as a rhetorical device, like saying “it’s a sunny day, isn’t it?”

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Sentence  ね

Here’s an example sentence: 

今日はいい天気ですね。

Kyou ha ii tenki desu ne.

It’s great weather today, isn’t it?

よ (yo)

Similar to the previous particle, よ (yo) is attached to the end of the sentence. This particle is used to express a strong conviction about something.

Here’s a general formation of this particle:

Sentence よ

Here’s an example sentence: 

これは私のカバンよ。

Kore ha watashi no kaban yo.

This is my bag!

Conclusion

So there you have it — a brief yet useful guide to the most common Japanese particles that you’ll need to start off with. What I did learn when I moved to Japan is that, sometimes, particles are omitted in the sentence when speaking conversationally and casually… I don’t recommend not learning them, though, as it’s extremely crucial to know them all. Good luck!

Top 10 Coffee Shops in Tokyo

Top 10 Coffee Shops in Tokyo

Japan’s capital city is not lacking in cafes that offer only the best caffeine a beverage can offer. There’s bound to be a coffee shop on every corner of every street, regardless if it’s near or far from the city center. Coffee is without a doubt a staple in the life of the Japanese — be it a morning cup for that surge of energy to start the day or just a casual sit-down with a bunch of friends for an afternoon sip. From drip and espresso shots to lattes and siphons, Tokyo has got you covered with the finest beans from all over the world. 

With such a saturated market, it may be difficult for a newly opened local coffee shop to stand out from the crowd. Coffee lovers might have a headache scrolling through the endless options of potential places to get their caffeine fix. Not to fret, here’s a carefully curated list of the best cafes to grab that boost of energy in Tokyo.

1. Little Nap Coffee Stand

Image credit: Johnathan Lin

Little Nap Coffee Stand is like a hole in the wall of a coffee shop. With only five chairs in the cafe, it’s almost impossible to snag a seat, especially with its slithering queue out the door every day. All of their brews are locally made and prepared on a Synesso machine, made from the high-quality beans are roasted on-site, maintaining the utmost freshness one can ever get from coffee beans. 

The laid back ambiance and warm hospitality of the owner are what keeps the customers coming day in and day out. Grab a cup of your daily fix and cross over to Yoyogi Park just steps away from this wonderful coffee place.

2. Turret Coffee

Image credit: @letachin

Named after the turret mini trucks that used to go around the Tsukiji fish market back in the days, Turret Coffee brings a pang of nostalgia with actual turret set up in the coffee shop itself. Along with other “normal” seats, this cafe oozes a warm vibe that goes perfectly well with their banging coffee. The espresso machines here pull and pour top-notch espresso for those who are looking for an instant boost of caffeine, but the real hit is the Turret Latte which features a double shot of espresso, topped with some beautiful latte art.

Turret Coffee also has seasonal treats that are specially made for the shop, including a local sweet called the dorayaki which is a pancake sandwich filled with red bean paste. Whether one’s looking for a morning fix or a casual afternoon coffee with a dessert, Turret Coffee is the place to be.

3. Glitch Coffee & Roasters

Image credit: @ytomatom

Sourcing beans from all over the world gives Glitch Coffee & Roasters an edge over the rest. Because of that, this coffee shop has accumulated a decent size of raving, coffee-loving fans. The display of all the roasts offered in the middle of the cafe space is a wonderful detail to the store. Not only does it add to the aesthetics but it also gives a sense of what Glitch Coffee has to offer to the customers.

Glitch is the perfect place for a lighter roast. The Guatemalan one seems to be a huge hit with the crowd. If you’re overwhelmed by the choices they have, the staff are more than willing to offer suggestions such as the fruity Kenya Karinga AA or whatever else that is preferable for your coffee palate. Packed with a powerful coffee range alongside the kissaten-inspired decor, Glitch is a one-stop for all coffee drinkers.

4. Lattest Omotesando Espresso Bar

Image credit: @janurky

While it is a bit of a walk from the main street and the nearest station, that’s never an inconvenience to Lattest lovers. This chill coffee shop lies in the back streets of Omotesando — central of Tokyo but far enough from the busy and noisy crowds. While the lattes and black coffees are ones to try, the signature item is definitely the one that’s named after the store. “Lattest” is a shot of their fine espresso in cold milk, giving the picturesque mix of espresso colour and milk visible through the transparent glass cup.

With a big community table in the middle and some cosy cart tables at the side for a more intimate experience, Lattest may rank one of the most famous coffee shops in the whole city — especially after its small feature in the show Terrace House.

5. Fuglen

Image credit: Seungbong Lee

Fuglen has a high reputation in both the cafe and bar scene. The original shop is in Oslo, Norway, and its expansion to Tokyo has caused waves of buzz among the locals. This blend of cafe and cocktail bar serves a remarkable range of quality coffee in the mornings through afternoons, and switches to bar mode in the evening, serving anything from Japanese and Norwegian craft beers to cocktails and spirits. 

Just as its reputation, the coffee at Fuglen is spectacular. It’s definitely premium quality as the beans are one of the most expensive to buy in the whole city. They also have their own roastery right around the corner, so if you love their ambiance and caffeine here, be sure to take a look there as well.

6. Blue Bottle Coffee

Image credit: @_hanno_co

Everyone who’s in-the-know with the coffee scene in Tokyo would have heard about Blue Bottle Coffee. This coffee chain shop originated in California and has expanded to Japan with multiple outlets spread out across the city Tokyo itself. The reason why this coffee shop is extremely well known is due to its use of high technology in the brewing of drip coffee as well as their carefully selected range of coffee beans. For such high quality, Blue Bottle Coffee prices their products extremely affordably, which includes the classic latte and their Hayes Valley espresso.

As their coffee beans are for sale, many are eager to get a bag of ground coffee beans for themselves to make at home. Almost everyone knows that you can get just about any flavours of coffee beans to suit your taste at Blue Bottle Coffee.

7. The Roastery by Nozy

Image credit: Dennis Amith

Arguably one of the most famous coffee shops in all of Tokyo is The Roastery by Nozy, located on the busiest street of Tokyo known as the infamous Cat Street. There are always two different kinds of single-origin beans served daily, used for any caffeinated drink from drip coffees and americanos to the loved lattes. If you order an espresso shot, don’t be shocked when you get served a champagne glass — it’s not actually champagne in it, it’s your ordered shot.

There are also sweet and savoury treats to go along with your freshly brewed coffee. The Roastery also does coffee cupping on Wednesdays, so for those who want to learn a little extra information on the coffee craft, the doors are always open. 

8. Kitsune Cafe

Image credit: @chihiro__315

One of the most aesthetic and beautiful coffee shops in all of Tokyo is definitely Cafe Kitsune. With multiple shops opened worldwide, this one in Japan has local influence everywhere — the interior is a seamless blend of a traditional Japanese home and modern elements. Most come here for the great coffee to match the equally outstanding visual concept. Some even get a pastry or two for their casual sitting on a nice afternoon.

9. Streamer Coffee Company

Image credit: Richard

Amidst the sea of lightly roasted coffee is this dark roaster, Streamer Coffee Company. With multiple stores opened in Tokyo, they have quite a following — and it’s for good reason, the coffee here is excellent! Every cup is completed with a different latte art each time and served in a bowl-sized mug, the latter specifically for the signature Streamer Latte which makes every penny worth it. Its chill and the laid back environment have made Streamer Coffee Company one of the best places for customers to grab their laptops and do some quick work, too.

10. Verve Coffee Roasters

Image credit: @vervecoffeejapan

Shinjuku is known for its nightlife, but in the daytime, the American coffee shop Verve shines the brightest. The natural, earthy colours of the interior space make you feel calm instantly, complete with a long table in the middle of the shop and a cosy outdoor seating at the shop’s entrance. No cup of coffee can go wrong at Verve, and beans are even available for purchase if you love their flavourful tastes — there’s a free cup of drip coffee given together with any purchase of coffee beans, what a deal!

Conclusion

There’s an endless list of great coffee shops in Tokyo. Each and every one of them contributes an original aspect to the coffee scene in the city. Local coffee lovers and those from abroad can enjoy a good cup of coffee almost anywhere as there’s never an average coffee place in town. For the really devoted caffeine drinkers, why not get a notepad to jot down all the possible coffee shops in the city one can possibly list and go on a whole coffee shop hop?

A Guide to Japanese Fashion Subcultures (Podcast Recap! S1E7)

Introducing Japanese Islands!(Podcast Recap! S1E5)

Introduction

Our fifth episode of the Nihongo Master podcast, we talk about island life in Japan. Japan is the largest island country in East Asia and the fourth largest in the whole world! But what not everyone knows is that Japan is not only one single island, but it’s made up a total of almost 7 thousand ones!

There are a total of 6,852 shima in Japan, and 430 of them are inhabited. They cover a huge range of longitude and latitude, ranging from the subarctic to the subtropical climates.

We looked at three different categories of islands: famous main islands, quirky tourist islands and some far-flung exotic islands which feel a world away from Tokyo — each with a few examples. 

Famous Islands

There are four main islands which broadly constitute the mainland, or ‘home islands’: Hokkaido up north; Honshu — the biggest part on which most major cities lie; Shikoku Island, known for its spiritual spots and laidback atmosphere; and southern Kyushu, the sunny stronghold of samurai culture.

To talk about all four would take hours on end, so we only headed to the far north and south, to Hokkaido Island and Kyushu Island. Despite both islands being part of the main Japanese archipelago, it’s incredible how different these two vast islands are: one a wild and wintery land with a unique indigenous culture, one a melting pot of foreign influences baking under the sub-tropical sun.

 

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the second-largest island of Japan, after Honshu. In days gone by, this wild northern region was the last frontier of the Japanese home islands. Nowadays, it’s a snow sports Mecca and home to a huge proportion of the country’s wildlife species like the red-crowned crane. On top of that, Hokkaido has probably the best and freshest seafood in all of Japan. The capital city, Sapporo, is a famous destination for anyone looking to venture the north without straying too far off the beaten path. 

Hokkaido’s history is quite the story, especially when it comes to its past residents. I won’t go into detail — that’s where the podcast episode comes in, and over there we talked about it all — but ever so briefly, the island was home to an aboriginal group known as the Ainu who also inhabited far-eastern Russia. They were skilled at hunting and fishing, but these people largely faded into obscurity after their lands were conquered and culture suppressed.

However, the unique Ainu culture is still alive (but barely) in the legends, music and dance they created. Official statistics state that there are just 25,000 Ainu remaining to carry the torch of this legacy. 

Want to know more about the Ainu people’s physical appearances, customs, practices, language and culture? Head over to Spotify or Apple Podcast and give this episode a listen! We also talked about other unique factors of Hokkaido — food, weather, attractions and all.

Kyushu

The island of Kyushu is the southernmost part of the home islands. Its geographical location means it has a far warmer climate than the rest— some parts even reaching subtropical latitude. Kyushu doesn’t have its own indigenous people like Hokkaido, but this island’s history is just as rich — long story short, the very last samurai waged a war against the government on this very island. Want to know the long story (but not too long)? Go to the podcast, people!

The sun-soaked coasts of Kyushu were also once the only ones in Japan to welcome foreigners, bringing in foreign religions like Christianity and business to the country. There was quite a ruckus going on because of the whole religion thing — we talked about the whole banning of Christianity and restriction of foreigners’ movements all in the podcast episode. 

You might’ve seen this in the film if you’ve watched Martin Scorsese’s 2016 movie Silence, about two Catholic priests traveling to Kyushu from Rome to track down their mentor. It was based on a book by one of Japan’s greatest modern novelists, Shusake Endo, and it shows the real brutality of the shogun’s forces.

Kyushu has more to offer than just its religious and political history — its nature is top class. I mean, they’re known as “The Land of Fire” for a reason, mainly for their active volcanoes but their natural hot springs are must-visits too. 

To know more about Kyushu, like the food and unique dialect, give episode 5 of the podcast a listen! 

Quirky Islands

Other than looking at the major players among the islands, we also took a look at some of the unique and stranger ones: animal islands and art islands. 

Animal Islands

Image Credit: Addy Cameron-Huff

Why go to the zoo or visit a pet cafe when you can get up close and personal with some wild and friendly ones in their home territory? Japan has no shortage of these places that are dominated by furry creatures — places overrun by critters that were once domesticated, but have now conquered entire islands for themselves!

One of the most famous is Rabbit Island, but the island also goes by a different name: Okunoshima. This tiny island is overrun by over 1,000 fluffy bunnies. After a day spent drifting around fields feeding friendly bunnies, you might be inclined to think of Okunoshima as a total paradise, but it wasn’t always this way. This island has quite a dark past for both bunnies and people. Something happened during World War II…it’s a secret that we revealed in the podcast!

If for some strange reason you don’t like rabbits, why not head to a cat island instead? While there’s only one rabbit island, there are a grand total of 11 cat islands in Japan! Why are there so many? Well, there are a couple of myths and legends, but mainly they were simply a solution to rodent problems on these islands. 

Out of all the 11 cat islands, there are two that trump the rest: Aoshima and Tashiro-jima.

In Ehime Prefecture, Aoshima is the most popular cat island there is. Some even call it the Cat Heaven Island because of how the furry felines outnumber humans. We talked a bit about this island’s history and population — cat and human! Tashiro-jima tucked off the coast of Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, has a similar story behind their excessive number of cats on the island. The difference is that Tashiro-jima completely and officially bans all dogs from visiting! 

I did mention other cool fun facts of these islands — check out episode 5!

Art Islands

Image Credit: Roger Walch

While some Japanese islands have been overrun by the animal kingdom, others belong to the avant garde. Art is business in Japan, and the country is home to some of the biggest private collections in Asia. The best art islands in Japan are Naoshima and Inujima. 

I won’t talk about them in detail here — there will be a separate post on that in the future (or you could just listen to the podcast if you can’t wait). But to get you started, Naoshima is probably the most popular art island out of them all, famous for its iconic ‘Pumpkins’ sculptures made by Yayoi Kusama, which are now an unofficial emblem of the island. Inushima, on the other hand, literally translates to “Dog Island” — but don’t get too excited — it’s not an island packed full of puppies; Inushima just got its name from a large rock on its coast, which looks like a sitting dog.

Both islands are home to unique museums, quaint cafes and exhibitions that you won’t get on the mainland. We went into detail what both islands have in the podcast episode.

Far-Flung Islands

The last category is for the remote Japanese islands flung far out into uncharted waters. They’re so  far from the mainland, they often don’t even feel like Japan at all, and which had their own isolated societies and unique culture stretching for millennia.

There are two groups of exotic islands we looked at: the Okinawa Islands (including the remote outer reaches) and the Ogasawara Islands.

Okinawa Islands – Ryukyu Kingdom

Image Credit: 8 Kome

To the southwest of mainland Japan is sunny Okinawa — a famous beach vacation spot that hardly qualifies as remote anymore, but the name itself actually refers to a few different things. It’s not only the name of one island that is capital to a vast prefecture of the same name — with over 150 islands spread out right throughout the Pacific Ocean!

These islands can also be collectively referred to as the Ryukyu Islands, named after the historic kingdom which ruled here for centuries before it was invaded by the Satsuma Kingdom of Kyushu in 1609. Listen to the podcast episode to know more about what happened.

Anyway, to this day, quite a number of the outer Ryukyu islands only have a few hundred residents, while others are virtually uninhabited. Because of their remote location and unspoiled nature, this cluster of islands is a haven for unique wildlife, genuinely undisturbed white sandy beaches in the world, and complete with colorful marine life and lively coral reefs.

In the podcast episode, we elaborated more on the subtropical weather of Ryukyu Islands, its wildlife species you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and of course, their unique language, culture and cuisine!

Ogasawara Islands – Galapagos of Asia

Image Credit: Lee Render

A lesser-known and more remote group of islands are the Ogasawara Islands. While they’re a sub-prefecture of Tokyo, it takes about 24 hours to go between the two!  Named after the Japanese explorer who discovered them, Sadayori Ogasawara, they are also known as the Galapagos of Asia. Like the actual Galapagos, these islands were formed by an isolated chain of underwater volcanoes. Because of this isolation, the Ogasawara Islands developed their own ecosystems with unique flora and fauna calling them home.

Previously, this group of islands was known as Bonin Islands. There are a few reasons why it was named that — we looked into it deeper in the episode. Another interesting fun fact about this group of islands is that the first settlers there weren’t Japanese — they were British! And others joined in before the Japanese came into the picture. Throughout the years, a unique culture was built — a mix of Japanese, Western and the Pacific Island culture in everything from customs to linguistics. 

It wasn’t all fun and games — original settlers were treated like second-class citizens during the wars. I won’t go into it — but if you’re interested as to what happened, we talked about it in the podcast episode!

Also in the podcast episode, we highlighted the best parts of Ogasawara — obeikei culture, cuisine, unique wildlife unlike you’ve ever seen before and, of course, the untouched nature. 

Vocab Recap

If you listened to the podcast and didn’t manage to catch some words, here’s a list of them:

Tanchou (丹頂) — the famous red-crowned crane

Kaisen don (海鮮丼) — Hokkaido’s specialty seafood rice bowl

Kani () — crab

Uni (海胆) — sea urchin

Gaikokujin (外国人) — foreigner (also known as gaijin外人)

Kazan (火山) — volcano

Onsen (温泉) — Japanese hot springs

Usagi (ウサギ) — rabbit

Neko () — cat

Inu () — dog

Jinja (神社) — shrine

Hakubutsukan (博物館) — museum

Goya (ゴーヤ) — bitter melon

Youkoso (ようこそ) — a formal word for welcome, most often seen in writing

Butaniku (豚肉) — pork

Umi-budo (海ぶど) — Okinawan sea grapes

Buninshima (無人島) — uninhabited islands

Umigame (海亀) — sea turtle

Conclusion

So if you’ve realized, in episode 5, we toured Japan from its very far northern reaches right down to the Pacific south. Along the way, we’ve taken a look at native peoples and languages, unique wildlife, culture both modern and ancient, and indigenous foods to add to your must-try list. So if you’re into any of the things I’ve mentioned, why not give the episode a listen?

5 Tips to Shopping in Japan

5 Tips to Shopping in Japan

Introduction

For those big shoppers out there, I bet you’ve picked up a few tricks along the way when it comes to shopping. Well, so have I — I definitely have a few takeaways from my time in Japan, and I’m here to share them with you in hopes that it will make your shopping experience even more fun and exciting. They will not only help you in Osaka and Tokyo but also in other parts of the country when you just randomly walk into a local store. 

Sometimes, Japan can be quite different from the rest of the world. Shopping is no different. Obviously, most of the basics are the same — you browse, try something on, fall immensely in love with the piece and then you buy it. On occasion, it may not be as smooth as you expect it to be here.

What can be so different from one’s perspective of Japan shopping, you ask? Well, let’s go through the important tips that will highlight the key differences and how to slightly tackle them!

1. Know your budget

First and foremost, you have to know your budget. Generally, one would have a rough estimate of how much they would want to spend on their trip. Here’s a tip: instead of setting aside a sum of money just for shopping, why not budget yourself to how much you’d put as a maximum amount for a piece of clothing?

Trust me on this, you’ll get easily swayed by the prices of the stuff in Japan. Imagine budgeting yourself spending ¥50,000, and when you see a pair of trousers that costs ¥15,000, you’ll be like “oh that’s not so bad, I’ll still have ¥35,000 left for the rest.” At the end of the day, you’ll end up with 3, maybe 5 pieces of clothing.

If you set a budget for each piece of clothing — say, ¥5,000 maximum for a shirt and ¥8,000 maximum for trousers — you’ll end up with more stuff for the same overall budget of ¥50,000!

2. Basic phrases are lifesavers

You’re right, the Japanese language is hard to master. But, it’s not that difficult to memorise a few sentences to make your shopping experience that much more smooth-sailing! To be very honest with you, people can get away with just knowing a few vocabulary words and not even a full sentence, so there’s no excuse!

The easiest ones to remember are colours: kuro () for black and shiroi (白い) for white are just your basic two colours that you’ll soon find out you’ll be using the most. If you want something that’s white in black, just point at the item and say “kuro arimasuka?” (黒ありますか?) — it’s that simple!

A sentence that you can remember easily is “ikura desu ka?” (いくらですか?) which means “how much?” Learn your basic one through ten before using this sentence though, as you wouldn’t be able to understand the response if you use it and not know the numbers. Once you do, this sentence is a lifesaver!

There are a few other simple and basic phrases to ease your shopping experience — it will 100% make it a lot more fun, if anything!

3. Be aware of the size conversion

Image Credit: paulStarPics

This one can get quite tricky. Just like how the UK size chart is different from the US size chart, the Japanese have their own size chart! Their shoe sizing follows a different kind of measurement and the S/M/L sizing can run rather small to accommodate the smaller physique of the locals. 

Do your research in advance or have the size conversion charts for all the various types of clothing and accessories saved on your phone. Some shops, especially the small, local ones, do not allow customers to try on the clothes or accessories, so you have to roughly guess if the items fit you or not.

Basically, the thing to note is that everything just runs smaller than usual. The Japanese are slim and petite in general, so some lengths may not be suitable for taller people, either. Be sure to check before you make your payment — some places, just like the “no trying” rule, have the “no refund or exchange” rule!

4. Don’t forget your passport

Oh, the privilege of tax-free! Visitors are lucky enough to claim the taxes back, but unlike some countries where you claim them all at once at the airport, in Japan, you can claim them at the store itself! There’s one catch, though: you have to have your passport.

I have made the mistake countless times — when I was first in Japan for travel — of not bringing my passport along with me and had to face the consequences of not getting the tax amount refunded. I guess if you’re as forgetful as me, you have to pay the price — literally!

5. Keep your eyes wide open

One thing I notice about Japan is that the good and great things are, more often than not, hidden. Sometimes, there wouldn’t even be signs to point to these amazing stores! I guess that’s just the exclusivity factor in play.

Because of that, make sure you get your cup of brewed coffee in the morning so you’re on high alert with eyes wide open to spot these hidden gems. These treasure chests of stores can gift you with all sorts of stuff — from unique, rare items to bargain prices!

The best ones are the ones that are underrated and underground, and that is no less for Japan shopping. Some are even literally underground! Who wouldn’t want one-of-a-kind items that only you have and no one else can get?

Conclusion

So there you have it — 5 exclusive tips from my own personal shopping experience in Japan. In my opinion, Japan is one of the best countries to shop in, and every piece is guaranteed quality. Whether you’re into luxury goods or thrifted items, rest assured you won’t be disappointed when shopping in The Land of the Rising Sun.

A Guide to Japanese Fashion Subcultures (Podcast Recap! S1E7)

Unique Japanese Mystical Animals (Podcast Recap! S1E4)

Introduction

If you’re thinking about Nihongo Master Podcast episode 3’s recap, well, we don’t have one. That’s because, for that episode, we interviewed the mastermind behind Nihongo Master himself, Taylor Dondich. If you’re interested in knowing what we chatted about — like what brought him to create Nihongo Master in the first place — then go and have a listen to that!

But now, we’re going to briefly recap episode 4 where we talked about Japan’s mystical animals. The country is packed full of interesting creatures, and some of them actually hold quite a bit of mythical significant in the country’s native religion, Shinto.

While you may have learned a bit about the importance of these mystical animals in local culture if you’ve watched anime with them in it, in episode 4, I shed some more light on four of them that hold a special spot in Japanese culture, as well as animal-related language throughout.

1. Kitsune

Image Credit: Daniel Ramirez

First on the list of mystical animals, we talked about the kitsune (), the Japanese word for “fox”. This animal is arguably the most popular in folklore, popping up in hundreds of stories, anime, and movies. You’ll see more than a few Shinto shrines with the kitsune being represented as a pair of proud and stately fox statues flanking the entrance. I won’t tell you the reason why — listen to the episode to find out! 

The oldest kitsune are said to be over 900 years old with 9 tails — one for each century. Sound familiar? That’s because a famous first-gen Pokemon was inspired by the tale. Kitsune are seen as intelligent and magically powerful in Japanese folklore — able to shapeshift into human form, with the shape of a beautiful woman being their favourite. They can be good or evil depending on the individual. Encounters with them typically don’t have happy endings, as the evil kitsune are said to seek out human company to drain the life force out of them, steal their memories, or just plain eat them!

If you’re suspicious that some people around you might actually be an evil kitsune, there are a few easy tricks to expose them…and of course, I can’t spill the secret when I already have in the podcast. You have to find out for yourself, so pop Spotify or Apple Podcast on your phone to listen to this episode. 

In the episode, I also shared a story about famous kitsune legends. What are you waiting for? 

2. Kappa

Image Credit: Kurt Komoda

For our second mystical animal, we went down to the riverbank to meet the kappa (カッパ): a reptilian turtle monster. The word “kappa” actually translates to mean “river child”, derived from the Japanese word kawa () to mean river and wappa (わっぱ), stemming from warawa (わらわ), to mean child. 

Kappa are child-sized, said to have vaguely the same form as a human but with slightly different features — while depicted in various ways, one feature is prominent: the really unfortunate bowl cut hairstyle. In the middle of this haircut they have a flattened bald spot, known as a plate, and these plates are a vital part of their bodies. It’s the source of their life force,so when they venture out onto land, they put a metal helmet on to protect the water on the plate.

There’s also a famous Japanese saying that involves the kappa: if someone is doing uncharacteristically bad at something, you might describe them as “kappa no kawa nagare” (河童の川流れ).  Wanna know why the saying is like that? Listen to the podcast episode! 

There are quite a few such legends of the kappa. Some of which see them being outwitted by the people they try to mess with. Some people also use cucumbers to get the kappa to do what they want. Believe it or not, their craving for this flavourless vegetable can override all their violent urges, which is why the Japanese cucumber sushi rolls are called “kappa-maki” (カッパ巻き). In the podcast episode, we told Irish writer and Japan’s earliest expat Lafcadio Hearn’s story called The Child of the River — a story about the kappa.

 

3. Tengu

Image Credit: Daniel Ramirez

The third mystical animal on our list is the tengu (天狗). The real-world counterpart of this mystical spirit is the kite, specifically the Japanese black kite.

How this mystical animal came about is a long story, but in the beginning, the idea came from a Chinese myth first found in Japan in the 8th century, in which a monk saw a shooting star and called it a “heavenly dog” — the literal meaning the kanji in the tengu’s name. Over the following centuries, a process of change occurred in which that distant meteor was transformed into a powerful bird man. Most folklore involves the tengu assisting monks in their holy business.

I elaborated more on the history of the tengu in the podcast.

That’s not all to the tengu — there are actually two types: the kotengu (小天狗, lesser tengu) which are smalltime tricksters and holy magicians, and the stronger kind, the daitengu (大天狗, great tengu). The latter is usually the ones we see on masks, with red skin and long, bratwurst-like noses which are thought to be a more humanized representation of a bird’s beak. This goes without saying, again, but if you want to know more, the podcast is always there for a quick listen! 

We also talked about famous tengu stories, and one of them is called “The Man Who Flew”. 

4. Tanuki

 

Image Credit: Meredith Kahn

If you want to catch sight of our fourth mystical animal, you’d probably be better off heading to the pub! That’s a favorite haunt of the tanuki (たぬき). This animal is quite common in Japan, but not very famous outside of the country. In English, they’re known as raccoon dogs, but they’re actually much more closely related to foxes and coyotes. You can easily identify them by the distinctive black stripes of fur under their eyes.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant in Japan, and been greeted at the doorway by a wooden statue of a blissed-out bear-like creature with a big smile and gigantic testicles? Yeah, that’s a tanuki. If you’ve seen the Studio Ghibli anime film Pom Poko, you already know that tanuki’s testicles are magical, and you’ve seen them use their inflatable, shapeshifting scrotums as everything from battering rams to parachutes! 

Want to know the source of tanuki legends — like why there are tanuki statues outside of shops? Listen to our podcast where we explain it all!

While tanuki now are seen as cheeky things and all-out pranksters, they used to be guardians. Although, many of the stories from the past few centuries are all about them slacking off and shapeshifting to eat, drink, and seduce their way through the human world. Want to hear some of the stories? We shared a few in the podcast episode!

Vocab Recap

Throughout the episode, there were a few Japanese words we used. Here’s a compiled list of the vocabulary words we shared during the vocab recaps of each section:

Kitsune () — fox

Kami () — a god

Inari (稲荷) — the god of rice and the harvest 

O () —tail

Mimi () — ears

Kappa (カッパ) — the turtle-goblins

Kōra (甲羅) – shell

Uroko () — scales

Yōkai (妖怪) — a wide word encompassing all kinds of spirits, sprites, and demons

Tengu (天狗) — the bird-like mystical animal

Tobi () — the black kites which tengu are mainly associated with

Kuchibashi () — beak 

umō (羽毛) — plumage

Hane () — Wings 

Tanuki (たぬき) — the racoon dog

Jūhi (獣皮) — pelt

Kegawa (毛皮) — fur

Conclusion

So that’s an insight to our whistle-stop tour through the natural world of Japan, and its most famous mystical inhabitants! If this brief recap caught your attention, I highly recommend you give the episode a listen — it’s one of the most interesting episodes yet!

(Nihongo Master on Apple Podcast and Spotify)