Top 3 Japanese Myths for Halloween

Top 3 Japanese Myths for Halloween

Podcast Recap! S1E12

Halloween season is upon us, and Halloween is just around the corner! In our Season 1 Episode 12 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, as part of last year’s Halloween special episode, podcast host Azra was excited to become your guide through another part of Japan’s unique culture. Well… maybe excited isn’t the word — today’s topic is the sort of thing that keeps her up at night with my head hidden under the covers.

In the episode, we did a bit of storytelling about Japanese ghost stories. Nippon horror tradition actually goes way further back than The Ring and The Grugdge. Superstitious villagers in Japan have been swapping ghostly folk tales called kaidan for centuries, and plenty of them could give any modern Hollywood horror flick a run for its money.These stories are filled with restless spirits, flesh-eating monsters, and enough blood and guts to make George A Romero weep with joy. 

We looked at three different ghost stories from Japan, which were collected and translated by the famous gaijin writer Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in Japan around 120 years ago! Of course, this article is a summarised version of our full episode, so if you want to listen to the full spooks, tune in to our podcast episode!

The Wife’s Revenge (Of a Promise Broken)

The first spooky Japanese horror tale we looked at started off with jealousy. Jealousy is natural — every couple has to deal with it at some point or another, it’s just a matter of how you process it: do you communicate openly and honestly; do you become passive aggressive; or do you maybe reach out from the afterlife to dish out some murderous vengeance? 

The first Japanese horror story proves that grudges can be ten times as toxic if you hold onto them past death…

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In the city of Izumo, in the far west of Japan, a young samurai sat by his wife’s bedside as she struggled through the final few hours of her life. With her strength fading, she told him that she wasn’t afraid to die and she was ready for it. What worried her was imagining someone else coming to take her place as the woman of the house. Her husband said, “I’ll never love anyone else as long as I live.”

She was overjoyed — the love of her life would only ever have eyes for her, and now she could have the ideal funeral of being buried at their home. The samurai vowed that he would place her tomb in the most beautiful part of their garden. 

She had just one more request; could he possibly get her a little bell? Those holy trinkets were all the rage among pilgrims, so she wanted one placed beside her. The distraught samurai promised he would, and with that, watched the woman he had planned to spend his life with slip away for good. Well… so he thought.

But hey, life went on. The samurai went about his samurai business, while his wife rested in peace at the end of the garden. That could’ve been the end of the story, but the samurai didn’t have any kids yet. Asian parents can get pretty pushy, and as the sole son in the family, the samurai could only put up with the pressure for so long.

So he got himself a hot new young bride. Not only did he marry her, but he also brought her into his home to live — the same home where his ex was buried at the end of the garden!

At first, the couple were living happily ever after…for like a week. Then the samurai was called out for a night shift at the castle, leaving his wife all alone in their big, old house. As the hour of the ox rolled around, she heard a noise outside: a faint tingling. As it grew louder, the young woman recognized the sound: a Buddhist priest’s bell. Ring a bell?

The noise didn’t pass. It got louder. And louder. And soon it was right next to the back of the house. The woman tried to get up to investigate, to call for some help, but she was completely paralyzed from head to toe. And then — in the dim twilight — she saw a figure drift through the screen door…

Hanging over her bed was a woman — her eyes rotted out, skin tight and dry, and grey hair hanging in thin clumps from her skull. She was wrapped in a dirty and tattered funeral shawl, and in her hand, held a pilgrim’s bell.

This unsightly corpse hung there in the air for a moment before speaking — “I’m the lady of this house. Leave at once, and if you tell anyone the reason why, I’ll tear you into pieces.” And with that, she was gone…

As daylight rolled around and her limbs started working again, the young girl started to rationalize what she had seen — it could be a bout of sleep paralysis or just a bad dream. No such luck, because the next night, with her husband still away at the castle, the exact same thing happened, with the exact same warning. It seemed the ex wife really had returned!

So when the samurai came back from the castle, he found his new wife distraught. She came to him crying, begging to divorce him and go back home, spilling the beans that the ex wife came back as a horrifying corpse ghost. 

The samurai chalked it up to stress, and convinced his bride that it really all was just a nightmare. But still, he felt sorry that he’d left her all alone like that.

When he had to return to the castle again that night, he brought in two of his most trusted and cheerful men to distract his wife with jokes and stories. Then, when it was time for bed, the guards ducked down behind a screen in the bedroom, and settled in for the night watch.

When dawn came, the samurai returned home and when he slid open the bedroom door…

Lying on the bed, he saw his young wife at the centre of a pool of blood soaking into the futon. Her head was torn from her body entirely. He scrambled over to behind the screen, where he found his two guards frozen still. When he shouted at them, they came to, and gaped in amazement at the gore all over the mattress.

The three men then followed a trail of blood which led through the bedroom doorway. It took them towards a back entrance to the house, then past the bamboo groves and ponds of the garden. 

At the end, they reached the grave beneath the plum trees where the samurai was reunited with his wife — both of them, actually.

Because standing in front of the open tomb, was the grey and decayed body of wife #1, and in her hand, the head of wife #2 — her face twisted in terror. Rather than doing the sensible thing and running away to the other side of the planet, one of the guards swung at the standing corpse with his sword, which crumbled into a heap, with one rotten hand still ripping at the face of the dismembered head on the floor.

The Floating Heads (Roku Rokubi)

The second story in the podcast episode also featured heads parted from bodies, sure, but not in the way you think. You see, in addition to standard ghosts, scary Japanese spirits come in all shapes and sizes — there are faceless demons, flesh-eating cat monsters, flaming wagon wheels with screaming heads in the middle… The list goes on and on, and gets even weirder the deeper you go.

This next story features one of Azra’s favorite strange Japanese spooks, which could make for a pretty impressive halloween costume if you’re stuck for ideas this year. This is a story about the rokorokubi…

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Long ago, there lived a samurai named Taketsura-san, from the southern island of Kyūshu. He made a name for himself serving a clan in his homeland, but by the mid 1400s this clan had fallen apart, and Taketsura found himself out of a job. He decided to become a priest and wander throughout Japan to preach in some of the most remote corners of the country.

One night, on one of those mountain roads miles from civilization, darkness began to fall, and Taketsura decided to call it a day. As he settled down on the comfiest patch of moss he could find, he heard footsteps coming down the road.

It was a woodcutter, with a bag of chopped wood slung over his shoulder. He spotted this mad guy just lying out in the open and invited the ex samurai turned priest to stay over at his hut nearby. 

So the two set off for the cabin, scrambling through bushes and scratching themselves on branches, until they reached a clearing at the top of a hill. They went inside, where the priest was introduced to the four other occupants — two men and two women. Something about the fancy way they all spoke sounded strange for a group of secluded peasants, so Taketsura had to ask: “You don’t sound like commoners. Did you guys used to be part of the nobility or something?” 

The woodcutter seemed pleased that he asked. “Yes, that’s right. Actually I was born a samurai, and I was pretty successful. Buuut, I loved the sake and the ladies just a bit too much and… well, let’s just say it didn’t end well. Now it’s my life goal to make amends for the damage I caused — every chance I get, I try to do good. In fact, that’s why I invited you here tonight.” 

Taketsura sensed the guy was genuinely full of remorse, so he told him that he shouldn’t be so hard on himself and that he would pray for him tonight.  And with that, they all went off to bed. 

For a few hours in his little side room, Taketsura sat by candlelight reading some passages from his holy books. He started to feel tired but also started to feel thirsty. Remembering the bamboo pipe out back, he tiptoed to the bedroom door, careful not to wake up his hosts. 

When he slid open the screen door he froze. It didn’t look like his hosts would be waking up any time soon: they were dead — beheaded, more specifically. Five bodies lay heaped around the fire pit. 

One second… Why was there no blood? If bandits had broken in and cut five people’s heads off, surely there would have been some blood — or some noise, for that matter. Then he noticed the stumps — the necks of the bodies were totally smooth and flat. 

That’s when it clicked: these weren’t people at all, they were yōkai. Taketsura racked his brains, and eventually he remembered the name: these were rokurokubi — monsters who could detach their heads at night, and send them flying off to hunt for prey. 

Luckily, he also remembered the way to beat them. If you find the unattended body of a rokurokubi, you should hide it, because if the head returns to find its body missing, it’ll cry out, smash itself into the floor three times, then die.

So that’s what he did. Taketsura dragged the woodcutter’s body and dumped it out of a window. Then he snuck to the back door, unlocked it, and creeped out into the woods. Looking out into the clearing, he saw five heads slowly flitting about through the air — every now and then drifting down to the floor, and rising with a mouthful of dirt-covered worms. Between bouts of munching on bugs, the heads were speaking to one another about eating the priest…one was ordered to check on him too!

One of the women’s heads floated high into the sky, drifting down through the smoke hole in the roof of the house. Moments later, it flew out in a panic, flitting from side to side, letting the rest know that the priest is gone, and so are their bodies!

The head of the heads freaked; he ordered the rest to find the priest. Taketsura was shaken, feeling terror for the first time. He grabbed a thick branch from the floor, just in case. And at just that moment, he was spotted behind the tree. The heads all turned screaming, and rushed through the air at the priest. With the branch in hand, he smacked the first one away, then the next, and on and on as they kept on flying at him. 

As he began to tire, he missed the woodcutter’s final rush, and found the head chomping

down on the sleeve of his robes. He smashed at the head over and over again, but its jaws were locked tight. After a few more solid knocks to the temple, and with one last moan, it stopped thrashing around, and hung lifeless from his arm.

By this point dawn had started to break over the treetops. The beaten and bruised heads panicked and fled back into the house, then ran into the forest with their bodies attached once more. After taking a few moments to collect himself, Takestsura continued on his merry way, with the woodcutter’s head still hanging off his clothes. 

As he reached the next settlement on the route, people were less than pleased to see him: a priest, marching through the streets carrying a human head, giggling like a straight up

psychopath. Obviously, he was arrested, and brought to trial for murder. When he shared his story with the court, the officials assumed he must have been munching on some forbidden roadside mushrooms, and sentenced him to death.

But just before he was dragged off to be beheaded, one old magistrate stopped them. He asked to see the head, which Taketsura brought up to the front of the hall. Sure enough, it was just as the old man suspected: the neck showed no sign of being cut — it was as smooth and clean a joint as on a Lego figure, and on the stump were some strange red kanji which are a dead giveaway for rokurokubi.

That means our hero could walk free, and go on to preach the good word for years to come.

So I guess the moral of the story is… don’t trust anyone? Always hide beheaded bodies? Ehm, maybe there’s no real takeaway here.

The Corpse Rider

The final story on the podcast episode is a little like the first, in that it has a touch of domestic drama. The ghost at the center of it is another woman wronged — she was divorced. 

This is the story of how to beat a literal ex from hell with nothing but a touch of magic and a decent amount of upper body strength. And of all our stories, it has the most fittingly black-metal title: The Corpse Rider.

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Around a couple of hundred years ago, a newly-divorced man headed out for a trip. She had been totally devastated, which made for a messy divorce. After a few days out on the road, the man returned home to his village. But when he got back, he wasn’t met with friendly faces; people turned to him with panicked eyes, and whispered to each other as he passed.

As he got to the center of town, he was approached by one of his neighbors, who told him the bad news: his ex-wife was gone — dead of a broken heart. And if her final words had been anything to go by, this broken heart was filled with rage for the one who had left her. When he heard this, he got goosebumps.

Someone who died with that much anger wouldn’t pass on easily, unable to rest until they had their revenge. In fact, everyone in the village knew this was the case, so they hadn’t even bothered to bury the woman!

There was someone kind of like an old-timey Ghostbuster the mancould call: the local shaman. So he visited this elderly wise man and told him about his predicament. The shaman made the unhappy bachelor swear to obey his every word, and the two returned to the village together as sunset loomed near.

As they approached the house, everything was eerily quiet all around because all the neighbours cleared out just in case they became a piece of collateral damage. The two slid open the door and the two of them stepped through. In the center of the main room, they saw the body of the woman lying there peacefully, face down. They looked on for a moment in silence. 

The shaman said: “Get on her. Sit on her back, like you’re riding a horse. Do it.”

He did as he was told even though he was terrified; he closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and sat down on the body, ice cold underneath him.

“Okay, now you’ll want to grab the hair, and grab it tight. If you let go before morning, you’re dead for sure. You have to promise to stay in that exact position until I come get you.”

The man agreed, what choice did he have? Hours went by, and total darkness seeped into the room. Then, the body threw itself upwards with a start, and the man was almost sent rolling across the room. Slowly the corpse rose to its feet, its joints creaking and cracking as it moved. 

After a moment, it began to walk, then suddenly bounded outside, throwing open the doors as the onryō and its rider took off into the blackness. The man held on with all his strength as they rushed down the pitch-black country roads, thin branches whipping against his arms and legs.

Hours passed like this, with the man paralyzed in terror and hanging on for dear life. After what seemed like an eternity, he found himself once again moving up the front steps of the hut. He slowly processed what had happened: the corpse had made its way back through the village, and now it was settling down onto the tatami of the house, in the exact same position as before.

The man was relieved but kept clinging onto the body, clenching his teeth and clamping his eyes shut, until he felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned in shock.

It was the shaman. Morning had come, and the first sunlight was filtering in through the windows. The man finally let go of the hair which was wrapped around his fists, both of them crumpled and trembling from the effort.

As the shaman helped the man up to his feet, he explained that now they had tricked the corpse into thinking he was gone for good, she wouldn’t be bothering him ever again.

Vocab Recap 

We used a lot of spooky-related vocabulary in the episode, so here we have a list of all of them accumulated:

Osōshiki (お葬式) — funeral

Bochi (墓地) — cemetery or graveyard

Boseki (墓跡) — tombstone

Ohaka (お墓) — tomb or grave.

Onryō (音量) — a vengeful spirit, like Sadako from The Ring, for example. But the more general word for any kind of ghostly spirit is yūrei (幽霊).

Akuma (悪魔) — nightmare

Warui yume (悪い夢) — bad dreams

Chi (血) — blood

Ume (梅) — plum tree, but it’s also the word for the fruit itself

umeshu (梅酒) — a sweet plum wine

Sōryo (僧侶) — Buddhist priest

Koya (小屋) — a hut, cottage, or shed

Taki (滝) — waterfall

Shinda (死んだ) — dead

Satsujin (殺人) — murder

Korosu (殺す) — to kill

Yōkai (妖怪) — a wide word for all kinds of Japanese goblins, spirits, and monsters.

Mimizu (ミミズ) — worm

Kyoufu (恐怖) — fear, terror, dread

kyōfushō (恐怖症) — phobias. 

kumo kyōfushō (クモ恐怖症) — arachnophobia (the fear of spiders)

Kōsho kyōfushō (高所恐怖症) — Fear of heights

Rikon (離婚) — divorce

rikon shita (離婚した) — to divorce 

Torihada (鳥肌) — goosebumps

Ryū (龍) — dragon: the Chinese style of dragon specifically

Nichibotsu (日没) — sunset

hinode (日の出) — sunrise

Jumon (呪文) — a magic spell

Kimo wo hiyasu (肝を冷やす) — an idiom meaning terrified: kind of like “scared stiff”. The literal meaning is that your liver is frozen, because the liver (the kimo) is used in a lot of Japanese idioms to express severity.

Happy Halloween!

If you like what you read, you’d love the storytelling version as told by podcaster Azra on Nihongo Master Podcast, Season 1 Episode 12. We also have a new Halloween Special on our podcast, Season 8 Episode 7: Celebrate Halloween the Japanese Way

And with that, have a wonderful spooky evening everyone! Stay safe and have a terrifying night!

Top 3 Japanese Facial Gestures you need to know!

Top 3 Japanese Facial Gestures you need to know!

Japan is known for a lot of things. Sightseeing, nature, and neon lights are among them. But those who have been here for quite some time would also know Japan for its high context culture. If you don’t know what that is, read our blog post about it.

Anyway, an aspect of the Japanese’s high context culture is body language and facial gestures. Aside from the language barrier, you’d have to be able to decipher body language and facial expressions too. This can be quite a challenge, especially if you have no idea what to look out for in the first place.

So, if you’re looking to know how to grasp the concept of Japanese body language, you’ve come to the right place! We’re zooming into facial gestures that are part of Japanese body language in this article. Head over to this other article where we look at the top 8 body gestures to know in Japan!

Japanese Facial Gestures 

There’s no doubt that communication can be like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. You get the pieces but you have to put them together. It’s all part and parcel of the high context culture! Japanese facial gestures take up quite a chunk of the Japanese high context culture. Sometimes, no expression is a gesture in itself!

So while it can be straightforward, it’s best to not roll the dice on it. There are a few things to take note of when it comes to the Japanese way of communication. They sometimes communicate with their facial expressions rather than saying it out loud. 

We’re going to highlight the top three facial gestures (感情表現 in Japanese) that give you an insight into what they’re trying to say: the one eyebrow raise, eye contact and the head tilt.

1. One Eyebrow Raise

This first one is the one eyebrow raise. Normally, if someone is doing that to me, I would be thinking that they’re waiting for an answer or reply. Sometimes, it also signals that they don’t understand. 

In Japan, it’s almost the same. When you get a one eyebrow raise, they’re telling you that they don’t understand. But not only that, they’re also asking you to repeat it. I guess that’s the difference – in Japan, no words are needed to ask someone to repeat.

Sometimes, you can get scrunched up brows instead, but they both mean the same thing. 

The best thing to do in cases like this is to repeat. If you were speaking in English, try repeating it slower and with easier phrases. I’ve gotten this a couple of times and in my case, they were just hesitant to ask me to repeat myself. 

2. Eye Contact

Another facial gesture to note in Japan is eye contact. To be more specific, the lack of eye contact. I’m used to making eye contact with people. It’s normal to me. In fact, I prefer talking to someone while making eye contact rather than not.

In Japan, it’s not always the case. Some people aren’t comfortable with eye contact. If that happens to you, don’t be offended. They’re not uninterested or bored. It’s just part of their body language. Prolonged eye contact is something they’re not used to or comfortable with. 

In cases like this, try to glance around to break eye contact. You’ll notice them doing the same. Try your best to be natural and not awkward about it!

3. The Head Tilt

Last but not least, the head tilt is a common facial gesture I get so often. This is often paired with the one eyebrow raise. This facial gesture is similar in meaning to the first one as it often tells you that the other person didn’t quite catch what you said.

However, this one, from my experience, is more of confusion rather than not understanding. 

Regardless of the difference, you’re also requested to repeat yourself. Similarly, rephrase your sentences so you’re not getting the head tilt again!

Are You Raising Your Brow Or Tilting Your Head? 

Body language can be quite difficult to grasp in general, regardless of which country. It’s a skill we constantly need to keep on learning. In Japan, it’s good that there’s a consistent set of gestures that can be easily decoded! You’re one step closer to mastering the high context culture here!

It’s Tasty and Educational Learning Japanese with Japan Candy Box!

It’s Tasty and Educational Learning Japanese with Japan Candy Box!

I recently received the October box from our friends over at Japan Candy Box. I’m happy to share my thoughts on this fun experience with you!

For those that don’t know, Japan Candy Box is part of the Kawaii Group’s subscription box service. Each month, customers will receive a unique box with a monthly theme. October’s theme was, of course, all things Halloween! Inside, there are ten snacks you can only get in Japan. These snacks range from savory to sweet, gum to chocolate, so there is something for everyone in each box! The treats come in individually-wrapped sample sizes so you aren’t getting too much of one thing, and so you get to try as many snacks as possible each month! If there is a particular snack you loved in one of the boxes, you can find everything available at their store, Japan Candy Store.

Along with each box of snacks, you will also get an adorable little guide that will teach you about each snack while you munch! The snacks are labeled “Savory Snack,” “Chocolate Snack,” “Assorted Gum,” “Dagashi,” etc,  so you know what they are before tasting.

The guide also comes with a word of the month! October’s word of the month is こわい (Kowai) meaning scary, which was very fitting for the box’s theme! It also includes “Event of the Month” and gives details about a special event going on in Japan each month. October’s Event of the Month is Kurana no Hi Matsuri (or the Kurama Fire Festival). I loved these little tidbits added so you can learn about Japanese culture while getting to experience it through snacks!

Japan Candy Box has included many popular brands in previous boxes, including Meiji, KitKat, Hi-Chew, Glico, and Milky. So you know you are going to get some high quality and delicious treats! You can even see sneak peeks of the upcoming box–see the theme and some of the brands included to get you excited!

Now onto my experience!

The boxes ship before the first of each month so that they will arrive on time. Because they are coming from far away, it can take one to four weeks for customers to receive their boxes. It took about two weeks for mine to arrive after receiving the shipping email. All the snacks were still fresh and delicious and definitely worth the wait! The box came and I was thrilled!

It looks so cute and everything was packed very well inside–no fears of crushed chips for me!

1. Baby Star Halloween Chicken Noodle Snacks

The first snack I pulled out of the box was chicken flavored noodle snacks by Baby Star. I don’t know where these have been all my life but I am so glad I got to try them now! This is a popular savory snack in Japan, made from crispy ramen noodles. The noodles included were chicken flavored. However, they come in a variety of ramen-related flavors that I’m eager to try sometime! Something I love about Japan Candy Box is getting to try snack foods that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise! It’s great to try new things and see what else is out there!

2. Koris Monster Gum

Next was Koris’s Monster Gum. As explained in Japan Candy Box’s guide, there are three pieces of gum included. Two have a sweet center and one is super sour–so these treats definitely have a trick! They fit the Halloween theme perfectly and are so fun!

3. Umaibo Halloween Corn Potage Puff Stick

This Umaibo (corn puff stick) is classified as だがし (dagashi). Dagashi are inexpensive and individually-wrapped snacks. They often feature mascots on the packages and colorful wrappings that kids love. This dagashi pays homage to a classic Japanese meal: コーンポタージュ (otherwise known as corn potage or Japanese corn soup). It really did taste just like corn, I was in awe! Corn potage is definitely a unique flavor that I had never seen in a snack before. That’s one of the fun things about Japan Candy Box; discovering one-of-a-kind snacks from Japan, a country filled with unique foods.

4. Sanritsu Genji-Pie Crispy Pumpkin Snack

The next snack is a classic in Japan: genji pie. These little treats are made of a flaky soft crust and come in adorable heart shapes! After tasting the previous snacks, this genji pie was a nice little respite. The pumpkin flavor is fitting for the box, but it’s not overpowering. Like many snacks in Japan, the flavor is subtle and the consistency is very light.

5. Tahato Halloween Caramel Corn

This next treat is a classic for fall–caramel corn! However, this snack is not the common caramel corn you are thinking of, but corn pops with light caramel! They weren’t too dense or too filling as caramel corn can be. I enjoyed the light airy quality of these that isn’t common in our American version. There are even a few ghost-shaped pieces included for an added bit of fun and spookiness!

6. Fettuccine Mickey & Minnie Halloween Gummies

Next are the Fettuccine Gummies. These get their name from their shape: short, flat strips, like small pieces of fettuccine! As you can read from the label, these are オレンジ (orange) flavor. They taste like the Orange Slices gummies we have here in the US, but more sour tang to them.

7. Kajyu Halloween Fruit Juice Gummies

The next treat is a small pack of grape flavored gummies by Kajyu. Kajyu is owned by Meiji, one of the biggest candy companies in Japan. Kajyu comes from the Japanese word for fruit juice kajū (果汁 or かじゅう) and is a fitting name for these gummies. Kajyu’s gummies are made from concentrated fruit juice to really pack in the flavor. These gummies smelled exactly like grape juice–and they were delicious! I’ve never been a fan of grape-flavored candies, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these! I think I might be a grape-flavored fan now–so long as it’s Kajyu!

8. Apollo Halloween Chocolates

Japan Candy Box’s guide has this next treat labeled under “Popular Candy” and they are correct! If you are a fan of Japanese candy, you have seen these before: Apollo Strawberry Chocolate Candies. I learned from the guide that these delicious strawberry and chocolate candies got their unique shape from the Apollo 11–the spaceship that brought us to the moon! The candies came in an awesome pyramid-shaped wrapper that I loved almost as much as the chocolates inside!

9. Furukawa Mysterious!? Witch Gum

Next is our second gum treat. I can see Japanese children having fun with this Halloween candy. The package features a spooky witch on the front, and she has mixed all the gum flavors together into one bag! There is orange, apple, soda, yogurt, and a mystery prank flavor! The back comes with guide on what flavors to mix to make new flavors. And if you eat every flavor together, the prank flavor will disappear! Definitely a fun Halloween candy! Something else I love about  Japan Candy Box is being able to practice my Japanese by reading the wrappers. This one was especially fun to read as there was so much included!

10. Black Thunder Halloween Chocolate Bar

Last, but definitely not least, is the Black Thunder chocolate bar! The bar is a small piece of chocolate shortbread cookie with rice puffs, all covered in a layer of chocolate. As a bit of a chocoholic, I’m always happy to try new chocolate bars, and Black Thunder did not disappoint. It’s light but chocolaty and had a delicious flavor from the cookie. It was a wonderful way to end my box tasting!

Favorite Snack Included?

Baby Star chicken noodle snacks! They were delicious and I was so glad they were included so I could try them for the first time! They are flavorful and crunchy and feel like a better alternative to potato chips.

Most Unique/Memorable?

Umaibo Halloween Corn Potage Puff Stick, no doubt! I’ve never had a snack that tasted like this but really enjoyed it!

So the verdict?

Japan Candy Box is awesome and exceeded all expectations! It was a wonderful way to practice my Japanese and experience Japanese culture, while also getting to try some new treats! There was a great mix of snacks, from sweet to savory, so anyone would love this box, regardless of their preference. The box is packed full of snacks, not too many that they will go to waste, but not too few that they will be gone too quickly. It is the perfect amount to keep customers happy until the next box arrives!

This box has been especially welcome since travel to Japan is currently restricted. It’s like getting to experience the country from home and getting to have a little piece of it with you. I recommend Japan Candy box to anyone who loves Japan, who wants to try new things, or anyone interested in a unique way to practice their Japanese.

Japan Candy Box was a fun and one-of-a-kind experience! There wasn’t a single treat I didn’t like. Getting to learn more about Japan and the kind of snacks eaten over there was so fun! Plans range from $24.90 to $29.90. No matter what plan you choose, you will be receiving plenty of high quality and delicious snacks!

Now please excuse me while I go to Japan Candy Store and buy more Baby Star noodle snacks.

Japanese Music & important words you need to know!

Japanese Music & important words you need to know!

Podcast Recap!

(Bonus content for NM Podcast S2EP3)

Japanese music is actually pretty popular. More popular than we thought. Sometimes, we didn’t even realize it’s Japanese music. In our podcast, Season 2 Episode 3, we discussed the various types of Japanese tunes and beats. 

A country like Japan with such a long and rich history has got to have an equally rich music background. It’s an integral component in most cultures. And true enough, the oldest forms of traditional Japanese music date back to the 6th century.

Over the decades, music has taken over this island nation. 

In fact, Japan has the second-largest music market in the world, and was at one point the largest physical music market worldwide! If that’s not proof of music’s influence in the country, I don’t know what is.

In our episode, we looked at three categories of Japanese music. For those who have tuned in, this recap article is for you! For those who haven’t, give the episode a listen! We are on all the streaming platforms – Apple Podcast, Spotify, and we even have our own platform for it! Or subscribe to our channel on youtube for instant updates over there!

1. Traditional Japanese Music

The first category we looked at was traditionally Japanese music, known as hōgaku (邦楽). This refers to home or country music. The term is the opposite of yōgaku (洋楽), which refers to Western music. 

It was back in the Nara Period of 710 to 794 and Heian Period of 794 to 1185, when the two oldest forms of Japanese traditional music first popped up: shōmyō (声明) and gagaku (雅楽). Shōmyō, a combination of the kanji characters for “voice” and “wisdom”, is a style of vocal music practiced during Buddhist rituals. It’s believed to have originated from India before making its way to Japan in the 6th century, and to this day, this oldest living form of vocal music is still being practiced.

We have a clip of the Buddhist ritual chant played in the episode, so give it a listen if you’re interested! 

The other oldest traditional music, gagaku, translates to “elegant music”. This refers to court music. It’s the fusion of various continental Asian countries’ music with traditional Japanese music. Back in the day, if you were merely a commoner, you probably would never hear gagaku, as it was exclusively the music of the Imperial Court. A typical gagaku ensemble consists of traditional Japanese instruments split into three divisions: woodwinds, percussion and strings.

Similarly. We played a clip of gagaku music on the podcast episode! 

We talked a bit more about other types of Japanese traditional music like enka (although this might not really be classified under traditional Japanese music and more of Japanese popular music. This genre just has to be mentioned.). Tune in to know more about it and hear a clip of a typical enka song! 

2. J-pop

Of course, a category we looked at has got to be J-pop. This is short for “Japanese popular music”, and arguably the most famous one on the list. While K-pop has been taking the world by storm recently, J-pop is also busy winning over the hearts of Japanese people — specifically the youths. The older generation has enka — the youngins have J-pop. 

While J-pop has traditional Japanese music influences, the genre has its roots in 1960s music as well as Western pop and rock, prominently bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. J-pop is pretty diverse and not limited to only pop music. Before J-pop became J-pop, it was kayōkyoku. 

We played a clip of kayōkyoku in the episode!

J-pop nowadays has been taken over by aidoru groups. There are so many of them that there’s even a term to refer to this current age of overwhelming idol groups: “The Age of Idol War”. Japanese idols are professional entertainers. Although they’re primarily singers, they often take on other roles like modelling, acting and dancing. 

We name dropped a few J-pop groups and played some of their music in the episode. If you want to know which popular groups we talked about, give that a listen!

3. Video Game Music

The third category we looked at is something a lot of us would recognise: video game music. If you’ve listened to one of our previous episodes “Pixels and Powerups”, or if you’re a video game enthusiast yourself, you’d know that Japan is pretty much number one when it comes to video games.

Before video games had music to accompany it, they had chiptune, which is a kind of synthesised electronic tunes that’s made using sound generators or synthesisers. If you’ve ever owned those vintage game consoles or played old arcade game machines before, you’re probably familiar with this tune.

We played chiptune music for a brief understanding.

As technology evolved, so did music in video games, and Japanese video game developers are the first few to get the jump on it. Don’t we all know Pac-Man? Arguably the most popular video game of all time, this Namco-produced franchise consists of more than a couple of tunes that we’ll recognise instantly as soon as it’s being played.

Did the Pac-Man tune play in your head? We can refresh your memory in our episode! 

The same company, Namco, went on to produce music for various other video games, and so began the era of video game music. Namco’s maze and driving game Rally-X was actually the first video game to have continuous music being played in the background. Fast forward to where we’re at now, and video game music has evolved tremendously. For all the various types of games, there are beats and tunes that match the gameplay — reacting to the player’s movements and action with seamless transitioning from one music to another.

We played some popular game music that you might be familiar with! 

Oh, and if you realise, a lot of Japanese words in this genre are just the katakana form of the English words. A lot of the time, you’ll see the words in katakana in Japanese video games!

Vocab Recap

We slipped in a lot of Japanese words in our episode, so if you didn’t catch it well, we summarised it here:

Hōgaku (邦楽) — “home/country” music to refer to local, Japanese tunes

yōgaku (洋楽) — western music

Shōmyō (声明) — chanting, vocal music practiced during Buddhist rituals

Gagaku (雅楽) — court music

Enka (演歌) — a ballad-style Japanese music genre that was originally a form of political activism, but has evolved to become a nostalgic tune of the nation’s identity

Ongaku (音楽) — music

Kayōkyoku (歌謡曲) — a term for Japanese pop music used up until the 1980’s 

Aidoru (アイドル) — Idol

Kashu (歌手) — singer

Ākēdo (アーケード) — arcade

Gēmu (ゲーム) — game

Meiro (迷路) — maze

Akushon (アクション) — action

Tune in to Nihongo Master Podcast!

So this is a quick round-up of the top categories of Japanese tunes and beats! Nihongo Master Podcast discusses various aspects of Japanese culture, travel and even language with our Study Saturday language series! Tune in every Wednesday and Saturday for new episodes!

All you need to know to have a great trip to Japan!

All you need to know to have a great trip to Japan!

Japan is one of the most popular destinations for travel. There’s no doubt about that one bit. Most dream about going on wild adventures in the land of anime and sushi. It’s on a lot of our travel bucket lists!

After you’ve purchased your flight tickets and blocked out the dates in your calendar, there’s still lots to do even before getting on your flight. In fact, the planning is the most crucial part of it all. Your research can determine how amazing your trip can be.

But even researching can be exhausting because you have to filter out tons of information online. So don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’re going to give you a few tips on how to prepare for your trip and the top places to visit! This is your one-stop guide to the best way to travel Japan!

Preparing Your Trip

So how does one prepare for a trip to Japan? It’s simple really, with our guide especially. Japan is full of  spectacular sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You don’t want to miss out on any just because you didn’t do your research, do you? Here are some of the ways to get ahead with preparing for your Japan trip!

1. Plan, Plan, Plan!

I know some of us are good at winging it, but it’s always great to plan. For Japan, it’s good to look into what each city has to offer and schedule your days accordingly. 

Transport is a crucial point to take note of. Going to other cities and around generally via public transportation can be a bump in the road if you don’t plan. Timings can be off and you might find yourself stranded in the countryside with no way to get home!

2. Have Extra Cash in Hand

Japan isn’t as credit card-friendly as you might think. Bigger stores might accept them but good ol’ traditional shops by the streets won’t. So because of that, bring extra cash. Whether it’s your home currency or exchanged into yen, just make sure you have them.

If you’re bringing extra cash from your home country, think of the exchange rates. Depending on which country you’re coming from, it might be better to do that in your home country than in Japan. You might be able to save a few bucks. 

You can also consider taking money out in ATMs in Japan. Konbini ones accept international credit cards for withdrawal. However, the exchange rates might not be pleasant… But hey, at least you have cash! 

3. Get A Pocket WiFi or Travel SIM

Plan to get a pocket WiFi or travel SIM card. WiFi may not be available all throughout the country. If you’re planning to go to various cities, especially countryside ones, you might have a tough time going around without one.

In cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, you probably can get around with just WiFi. Some restaurants and shopping malls also offer them for free but they are super slow. 

Cities can get surprisingly massive and you might find yourself constantly lost. Google Maps will be your best friend during your trip. It’s also greatly accurate for planning transport routes! 

Must-Visit Stops in Japan

Planning includes where you want to go. Japan is a huge country, so you’ve got to decide which cities you should stop by. There are so many to choose from, but we’ve shortlisted the top three to start you off, especially if it’s your first time in Japan!

1. Tokyo

Who hasn’t heard of Tokyo? The capital city is one of the most famous cities in the whole world! Movies feature it and the neon lights are strangers to no one. They say that a month’s worth of travel wouldn’t be able to cover a third of what this city has to offer.

But we’ve got to start somewhere. The Shibuya Scramble Square is one of the top stops on the list for sure. It’s super busy but the best place to get everything you ever need! Food, drinks, shopping – you name it! 

Don’t miss out on visiting the Tokyo Tower and its area. Not only will you be able to see the city from a high point view but you’ll be able to stroll leisurely on the streets full of cafes and gardens. 

2. Kamakura

This city is just about an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo. Kamakura isn’t as busy as Tokyo even though it’s close. That makes it the perfect day trip to escape the bustles. The peace and serenity will be the first few things that hit you as soon as you arrive here. Locals and foreigners alike travel down to Kamakura for a change of pace.

The big Buddha statue known as the Kamakura Daibutsu is the highlight of the city. This can be found in the Buddhist temple, Kotoku-in. 

An area you have to visit is the one near the Hasedera temple. Its streets are extremely vibrant. Tons of cafes and restaurants are brimming with energy. This is also the perfect place for souvenir shopping! 

3. Kyoto

What’s a trip to Japan without a stop by the ancient capital city of Japan? Kyoto strips back down to the roots and tradition of Japanese culture. Every street screams history and culture, and you’ll be able to see geishas casually wandering around!

Arashiyama is a spot you have to see for yourself. The highlight here is the bamboo forest sheltering a few local temples. You might even see some monkeys for yourself! 

Walk down the infinite gates of the Shinto shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha. The gates run for 4 kilometers long! You don’t have to go all the way up, but if you do, set aside about two hours for a leisurely climb up. There are great sunset viewing spots up there!

Get ready for Japan!

Are you ready to explore Japan? There’s so much more to explore in Japan, but if we list them all, we’ll be here the whole day. Use our tips and planning guide to help you plan your next Japan trip! 

A First Timer’s Guide From Tokyo Cheapo

A First Timer’s Guide From Tokyo Cheapo

 Having lived almost a decade in Tokyo, the best phrase I’ve heard so far for describing this vast city is, “A Disney remake of Blade Runner.” 

When you arrive you’ll see what I mean – over 35 million people, skyscrapers towering over small wooden houses, spaghetti junction freeways running above and deep below the city, trains weaving in and out of the ground and through department stores, all with friendly animated characters guiding you at every turn. 

It’s uniquely safe for such a large metropolis, spotlessly clean despite an abject lack of trash cans, everything works and is on time. As a newcomer you’ll find it deliciously confusing with the massive cultural differences, language barrier – it’s guaranteed to be unlike any city you’ve ever seen before. 

Closed Borders – Covid Disclaimer – Visas 

At the time of writing, the borders to Japan are closed to almost all non-residents. There’s progress towards the borders reopening, with domestic restrictions and re-entry requirements easing, plus the influential business lobby working the government to open up again. But there’s no clear timeline for opening up yet – so keep checking for updates and always be prepared for disruption when planning any international travel.  

Visa Duration 

Pre-pandemic, most westerners and many other countries could just turn up and receive a 90-day tourist visa under the visa waiver program – here’s a full list of countries.  Some nationalities (Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the UK) can apply to have the 90-day visa extended for up to 6 months after arrival. This requires a trip to the immigration bureau, filling out a form and waiting in a queue for a few hours. 

Again, at time of writing the borders are closed and the visa waiver program is suspended, so check your local government’s travel advice for Japan (or brave the confusion of Japan’s Ministry of Foregin Affairs website). 

Getting Connected Sim Cards, WiFi, Roaming 

You might find your mobile provider’s roaming charges to be prohibitively expensive in Japan, but there are a few exceptions in the US/UK/EU and South East Asia. Either way you’ll probably find it cheaper to pick up a data SIM card, or rent a mobile wifi router for the duration of your stay.  

Prepaid Sim Cards in Japan 

As long as you have an unlocked smartphone, you’ll be able to order a prepaid SIM, pop it in your phone and get online. The most cost effective and sensible option is to pre-order a SIM card to your hotel/accommodation for when you arrive. Alternatively if you’re not so price sensitive there are kiosks and vending machines at the airport where you can buy a SIM just after you land. 

There’s quite a few providers offering different plans, ranging from ¥2,880 – ¥7,490 (about $25 – $70 USD)  a month for 10GB – unlimited data. Check out the Tokyo Cheapo comparison article on buying prepaid SIM cards in Japan for the latest prices and recommendations. 

Free Wifi 

If you’re a super cheapo, you’ll know the old phrase, “Nothing is cheaper than free… wifi”, and the good news is that free wifi is now abundant in Japan. 

You can reliably connect to the internet at almost all convenience stores, many cafes, most train and subway stations, most department stores, many shops, many public buildings like museums, galleries, and sightseeing spots… the list goes on. 

For a more exhaustive list, check the Tokyo Cheapo article on getting connected

Pocket Wifi 

The other option worth a mention is renting a pocket wifi/mobile wifi router for the duration of your stay. This is a great option if you’re travelling as a group/family and want to share a connection between multiple laptops and phones. Prices are similar to SIM cards and are typically from ¥900/day to ¥7,000/month, with discounted longer term monthly plans available too. Once again check out our article for the best deals and some discount codes on pocket wifi in Japan. 

Getting Around 

 

Suica card – buy one as soon as you arrive

First up buy a suica (or pasmo – which works exactly the same) card at the train station at the airport as soon as you arrive. This is a credit card-sized IC card that you can easily top up with credit, buy the cheapest one and just top up 1000yen every time it runs out. Don’t bother fiddling with point-to-point tickets, it’s not worth the hassle. Buy a Suica card and simply tap to enter and leave at the train station barrier.  

The metro system in Tokyo is the biggest and most efficient in the world. You’ll barely be waiting on the platform more than 2 mins for your next train, which is almost always on time, accurate to a few seconds. 

Use this English website to plan your journeys through the city. Unfortunately none of the English language train apps are as comprehensive, but some like trains.jp give you train routes without having internet access. 

Beware of the last train, don’t have your carriage turn into a pumpkin. Trains stop early, often before midnight after which you’ll be stranded at the mercy of cabs whose fare’s increase dramatically at night as trains stop running. (see notes below about where to stay in Tokyo). 

Best Neighborhoods To Stay In 

The best area of Tokyo by far is the southwest central part of central Tokyo, roughly centred around Shibuya. A good rule of thumb would be anywhere within 2 to 3 train stops from Shibuya. Most of the interesting events, nightlife, people and culture are usually found in this zone, plus it’s still easy to get to all the various sight-seeing spots on Tokyo’s excellent transport system. Unfortunately it’s also one of the more expensive areas and it can be difficult to find places to stay.  

Because there’s no public transport except for taxis after about 23:30 you’ll want to be based near where the nightlife is. Otherwise if you miss your train you have the wonderful choice of a 3 hour trudge home, $100 taxi or pulling an all-nighter. So it makes sense to be based somewhere southwest central. 

There are other pleasant neighborhoods in Tokyo a little bit further out, so if you don’t mind getting your carriage before midnight also consider:  

  • Shimokitazawa – just outside of Shibuya, hip and friendly hood 
  • Hatsudai, Nakano, Sasaka – fairly close to Shinjuku and quite cheap 
  • Yotsuya, Kagurazaka, Jimbocho – still fairly central and not too pricey 
  • Asakusa – lots of budget and foreigner friendly accommodation 
  • Anywhere on the south side of the Yamanote line 

Airbnb, Agoda, Booking – all the usual international booking sites have Tokyo pretty well covered. One thing to know if you’re booking hotels from a Japanese website or hotel directly, the charge is sometimes per person, and not per room. 

Shibuya – a halloween mayhem 

What To Do In Tokyo 

If it’s your first time, then I always say just simply being anywhere in Tokyo is half the sightseeing done. With all the many differences, from the subtle (bizarre background music in super markets) to the conspicuous (train staff pushing commuters into an already full train carriage in order to close the doors), there’s so many sights to see without even visiting a tourist spot. 

That being said, here’s a list of 101 cheap and free things to do in Tokyo. Highlights include 

  • A free view from the top floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Skyscraper in Shinjuku. 
  • A taste of the old at Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, in Koganei park. 
  • Checking out some contemporary art at The National Art Center, in Nogizaka. 
  • Enjoy one of Tokyo’s oldest and most beautiful parks, Koishikawa Korakuen – especially good in Autumn. 
  • See the vanguard of Japanese girls’ fashion at culture by exploring the 109 department store in Shibuya 
  • Cower before the Gundam Statue in Odaiba 
  • Escape from the crowds of Harajuku, walk through forest and visit an oasis of calm at Meiji Shrine 
  • Drink with the locals at one of the many old-fashioned miniature bars at a “Yokocho check” – Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya, Sankaku Chitai in Sangenjaya, Sanchoku Yokocho in Yurakucho, Ebisu Yokocho, Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku etc. 
  • Eat all the things – the food is so good in Tokyo eat as much of it as possible! 

Gyms and Fitness 

Surprisingly there are lots of cheap community gyms around the city, typically with entrance fees of 200 – 400yen per pop. 

Here’s one in Shinjuku with a squat rack – website 

And in Shibuya – website 

And yet more options here 

If you want to go a bit more high end, Gold’s Gym (of international fame) has visitor passes, a single month membership for around 18000yen, and ongoing monthly plans from about 8000yen. 

There’s also a surprising amount of chin up bars in small parks dotted throughout the city, if you can make do with body weight exercise. 

The Emperor’s Palace is a popular spot for jogging, one lap is about 5km – NOTE: everyone usually runs round counterclockwise, but you won’t be arrested for going against the grain (I’ve battle tested that). There’s a nice public bath (sento) just here to shower off and soak in afterwards. 

Also at the edge of the city you’ll find mountains with numerous hiking trails for all abilities. 

Cheap Eats In Tokyo 

You can’t really go wrong with food in Tokyo, so don’t be afraid to try places without any recommendations. English menus are fairly common now-a-days, but even without, you’ll find many menus come with pictures of almost every dish. The only specific recommendation I need to give is to avoid places that have touts – if they have staff out and about trying to pull in customers then that’s not a good sign! 

Sushi 

You can literally eat sushi anywhere – even from 7-Eleven and it’ll be good. For the best cost performance, go to a standing sushi bar, you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with busy salarymen and women – true professional Tokyo cheapos. NOTE: Don’t bother trying to get a reservation at Jiro or stand in line for hours at one of the “best” Tsukiji Market sushi restaurants, there are countless restaurants that are really good that get overlooked from tourist guidebooks, just check the price suits your budget and enjoy – no need to queue. 

Ramen, Soba, Udon 

Student prices don’t necessarily mean student food, but you’ll usually find any of the ubiquitous noodle eateries –  Ramen, Soba or Udon – filled with students. Look for restaurants that have you pay at a vending machine (you then give the ticket to the chef), that’s a clue that is good and cheap.  

Izakaya – The Japanese Pub 

Somewhere between a tapas bar and a pub, an Izakaya is about drinking as much as it is about eating. Still they are usually a great place to sample a wide variety of Japanese cuisine. Normally they will have a speciality – Yakitori (chicken BBQ skewers), Nabe (hot pot), Seafood etc. but likely the menu will have a little bit of everything. Which is how you should order – try as many different dishes as you can, and share just like tapas.  

For a good Tokyo foodie website, have a look at https://bento.com/ 

Language Tips 

Hopefully you’ll have at least a few words of spoken Japanese ready to put to the test when you arrive, but If not then Nihongo Master can get you up to speed. You’ll find the majority of people in Tokyo won’t be comfortable with speaking English, so they’ll be very pleased to hear you (at least try to) speak Japanese. Also most people will have studied English for several years at school, so by hook or by crook you should be able to get by. 

Lots of words in modern Japanese are borrowed from English (or French, German etc). Unfortunately they may be tricky to recognise as they are pronounced with a Japanese accent, and often vowel sounds get lost in translation. So a handy trick is that if you don’t know a word in Japanese, you can try saying the English word with a Japanese accent – like meeting -> meeting, suitcase -> suitcase, beer -> beeru. But be warned, if you have a very good Japanese accent, people might then assume you are fully fluent and will talk to you at full speed! 

You’ll find a lot of spoken Japanese in Tokyo is either Keigo (the super polite and honorific speech), or informal Japanese. This can be quite confusing for new-comers, as you may not have advanced enough to branch into learning the very polite or informal speech. On the other hand, spoken Japanese is often very abbreviated and unnecessary words are often dropped from sentences. So less is more when trying to communicate – if you’re not sure of all the grammar yet and just want to be understood, try leaving it out and keep sentences short and simple. 

Finally, Tokyo after dark is a great place to improve your language skills – in contrast to the day when most people seem quite introverted, everyone opens up after a few drinks. If you’re out and about in bars and izakayas it probably won’t be too long before you end up in conversation of some sort.  

What is the JLPT & how to take this Japanese proficiency test!

What is the JLPT & how to take this Japanese proficiency test!

If you’re interested in learning the Japanese language, or have already started studying it, you probably have heard about the JLPT. It’s the best way to measure one’s level of Japanese proficiency. Most languages have this type of standardized test. Japanese is no different.

While it may not be compulsory for one to take the JLPT test, it’s something most Japanese language learners should consider. Before you stress yourself out about it, you’ve come to the right place to know all you need to about this test. Everything from advantages and disadvantages to what the test contains is all just a scroll down away!

What is the JLPT?

Of course, the first question is: what is the JLPT? This stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It’s organised by the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES), which is a semi governmental organisation. 

In the test, your reading and listening skills are tested, focusing on grammar and vocabulary. There are MCQ questions as well as listening comprehension. Depending on your level, the test gets harder. In total, there are 5 levels: JLPT N1 to N5. N5 is the lowest proficiency level of them all, with N1 being the highest. Japanese language learners start off by taking the JLPT N5 test.

A lot of Japanese language learners use these tests to gauge their level of proficiency and figure out their weak points. In N5 and N4, the most common and conversational grammar and vocabulary are tested, but as you get to N2, almost all the grammar points are tested.

Levels of the JLPT

As we mentioned earlier, there are 5 levels of JLPT. Let’s take a look at what you need to know for each level.

JLPT N5 

In JLPT N5, which is the easiest level, this proficiency level is a good first step. There are 600 vocabulary words covered, 100 kanji (漢字) characters and 100 grammar points. At this level, you should also be able to read hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ). Grammar points include particles, which is the basics of any Japanese sentence. 

This level of JLPT is a great level to show your achievement and interest in the language. While you can definitely put this on your resume, it probably won’t score you any big jobs. Lots of language learners study for the test but never actually take it. They do so just to know their level and also save a few bucks. 

JLPT N4

I personally skipped to the JLPT N4 and didn’t take the JLPT N5 test. This level covers most of the grammar that you need to speak conversational Japanese. Once you cover all of JLPT N4 and N5 material, you can get around Japan without many problems. 

In JLPT N4, you’re looking at 2,000 vocabulary words and 300 kanji characters. While it won’t get you reading newspapers without issue, you can understand the gist of the text enough.

JLPT N4 is a good level to stop at if you don’t plan on working in Japan or your job doesn’t require Japanese for work. This is because this level gives you good enough comprehension skills and grammar to survive most conversations. 

JLPT N3

From this level onwards, you’re going to want to be more focused. There’s a slightly big jump from N4 to N3 as you need to speed up reading and comprehending. At JLPT N3, you’re required to learn 5,000 vocabulary words and 600 kanji characters.

Phrases and grammar points in this level are more advanced than N4 and N5. This level bridges the gap between N4 and N2 – N4 looks at common grammar, whereas N2 looks at less common ones. 

At this level, you can use this for a job, maybe outside of Japan, to reply to non real-time comprehension like email. 

JLPT N2

If you’re planning to work in Japan, the JLPT N2 is what you should aim for. This gives you the most grammar and vocabulary you would need to understand most of written and spoken Japanese. You’re required to learn 10,000 vocabulary words and 1,000 kanji characters.

When you pass N2, you can land yourself a lot of jobs in Japan as it proves your comprehension of the language.

JLPT N1

Last but not least, we have the JLPT N1. This is the highest level of all and proves your utmost fluency in the language. When you have this level, you’re qualified for any job in Japan. It’s pretty close to native fluency at this point.

During the test, you’re going to have to take down notes ast and can skim and read fast, too. These are skills that are important for working. With this proficiency level, you might even qualify for special visas that have more perks than the permanent residency. 

Some say it takes the same amount of time to go from N2 to N1 as it does to go from 0 to N2.

Benefits of the JLPT

There are a lot of benefits to taking the JLPT tests, regardless of level. Even though it’s fairly easy to get an English teaching job in Japan, you can’t really do much without some sort of Japanese language comprehension.

So you’re definitely increasing your chances of getting other employment opportunities. Although, a lot of jobs require at least an N3 or N2 proficiency level, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from taking N5 and N4.

With a better understanding of the Japanese language, you might even be able to get a pay raise at your job. Especially if you can negotiate for it in Japanese.

Disadvantages of the JLPT

I think the biggest downside of the JLPT tests is that it doesn’t test speaking ability. The tests focus a lot on reading and listening, but there isn’t a section for speaking.

While this can easily be practiced when you immerse yourself in the country and its people, you can get away much more with grammar when talking to people casually. A lot of Japanese language learners are still constantly improving their grammar when speaking because the JLPT test doesn’t have a section to correct speech.

What level of the JLPT do I need?

Now, this depends on what you want to use Japanese for. If it’s to gauge your understanding of the language, N4 and N5 can do that. 

N3 can get you a couple of job positions. I have tons of friends who are at N3 level and have landed jobs in Japan with it.

To be fully certain you can get more job opportunities, N2 is the way to go.

N1 is only needed for more advanced positions.

Which JLPT test are you going to take?

So, which level are you going to take? Remember that you should always take your time and go at your own pace when learning Japanese. You are on your own path and no one else’s! Good luck!

Basic Japanese: Hiragana & Katakana – What you need to know about Japan’s two alphabets!

Basic Japanese: Hiragana & Katakana – What you need to know about Japan’s two alphabets!

One of the first few things you’d notice about the Japanese language when you start learning it is the various alphabets. I mean, who wouldn’t? In English, we only have one. In Japanese, there are two! Not to mention kanji! Those who know this and still are motivated to learn are the strong-hearted ones!

Whether or not you already know the alphabets, have you ever questioned why there are two of them? I guess you have, if not, you wouldn’t be here! We’re here to clear your doubts and answer some of your questions regarding the matter. Read on for clarifications on hiragana, katakana, and their usages!

What is hiragana? 

Hiragana (ひらがな) is one of the two phonetic lettering system in the Japanese language. The word actually translates to mean “ordinary” or “simple”. Originally, hiragana was called 女手 (おんなで), and women were the main group of people using it. 

Back in the late Nara to early Heian period, around the 8th century, the ancient writing system 万葉仮名 (まんようがな) was used for unofficial texts, written in the cursive style of 草書体 (そうしょうたい). The women in the imperial courts developed hiragana because it was easier to use compared to the Chinese characters. Back in the day, only men were allowed to be educated in reading and writing kanji. These kanji are more picture-words than phonetic, which is why hiragana is created as it’s easier to read and write. Over time, men started using it too.

Officially, the Chinese characters were still used, and hiragana was used among non-governmental organizations and commoners, in poems and short stories. From the 16th century onwards, hiragana started to be called 平仮名 (ひらがな) – the kanji used 平 actually takes the meaning of “simplicity” or”general use”.

What is katakana?

The other Japanese alphabet, katakana (片仮名 or カタカナ), also originated from the 万葉仮名 (まんようがな) writing system. Instead of women creating the alphabet, the Buddhist monks were the ones that came to use this alphabet. It wasn’t also used separately from Chinese characters, but together with them. 

The Buddhist monks created katakana to be able to read difficult Buddhist scriptures. It’s used as a form of annotation as a supplement to kanji characters. Over time, katakana was used for official documents and for scholars. 

Katakana was often used by men, so it was sometimes referred to as 男手 (おとこで) to contrast with hiragana, as it was often used by women. 

The 片 kanji in the name of hiragana means “pieces” as the writing system took parts of the Chinese characters to make them. It was also implied that katakana was going to be only temporary, as it was a supplement of the Chinese characters, but now remained to write words of foreign origin. While there were a few variations of katakana, it was standardised in the 1900s. 

Why are there two alphabets in the Japanese language?

Now we’re going on to the big question: why is there still a need for two alphabets in the Japanese language? You might’ve guessed it already from the backstory of each writing system. The two alphabets were created for different purposes. Hiragana was used as a common language and separate from official writing. Katakana was a supplement to official writing. 

Sometimes, both writing systems were used. A text in 897 called 周易抄 (しゅうえき) used both hiragana and katakana – hiragana was used for annotation to do with meaning and more often used for poetry and letters, and katakana was used by scholars to aid with kanji. 

Nowadays, hiragana is used for grammatical purposes like particles. It’s also sometimes still used for phonetic reasons to sound out really difficult kanji characters. Onomatopoeias are written in hiragana too. 

Katakana, as we mentioned earlier, is used to represent new words that were imported from foreign languages. Even though they have the same sounds as hiragana, because there’s no kanji characters for foreign words, they’re written in katakana instead. 

What about kanji?

We speak a lot of kanji throughout the article, it raises the question: why is it still used in the Japanese language? Kanji is the oldest writing system from China. It’s a picture-based system that’s made up from logograms. That means they are characters that represent whole words.

Kanji is the first writing system used in Japan, introduced in the 4th to 5th century. Japan had a spoken language, but not a writing system to go along with it. The Japanese then took the kanji writing system and matched each character word with the same pronunciation in their spoken language. 

Sometimes, the original lChinese pronunciation is still used today, which is why we have onyomi (音読み), the Chinese way, and kunyomi (訓読み), the Japanese way, now. 

For example, the kanji for “mountain” is 山. In Japanese, this is pronounced as “やま”, but the Chinese pronunciation is “さん”. Both pronunciations are still used today, which is why Mt. Fuji is called both “Fuji-Yama” and “Fuji’san”.

Nowadays, all three writing systems are used together. Sometimes, you can see all of them in a single sentence. This is for readability reasons. Kanji characters create natural breaks in a sentence because they’re easier for the reader to separate nouns and verbs. A full sentence in hiragana is like an English sentence without spacing. Katakana is for foreign loan words, and it’s similar to our italics in English. 

Use all three writing systems in Japanese!

There’s always a way to simplify them even more, but the Japanese people are pretty content with using all three writing systems. And who are we to tell them not to? When in Rome, as they say. After all, once you get the hang of it, reading Japanese in their two alphabets plus kanji is not difficult at all!

Everything you need to know about Omotenashi, the art of Japanese Hospitality!

Everything you need to know about Omotenashi, the art of Japanese Hospitality!

The Japanese people are proud of their country and culture. One of the top things they take pride in is ‘omotenashi’ (おもてなし). This is a Japanese concept that’s identified as ‘hospitality’. It’s deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and it’s something the rest of the world looks up to Japan for. 

This top quality customer service and overall hospitality is prominent in all aspects of the culture. You’ll definitely experience it when you travel here. If you’re planning to work in Japan, especially in the customer service line, you would also be expected to adopt omotenashi. You’ve come to the right place if you don’t know exactly what it is. In this article, we’ll cover the definition of omotenashi, how it came about and how it’s different from regular customer serivice!

What is omotenashi?

As we mentioned earlier, omotenashi refers to Japanese hospitality. This word became popular when it was used in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics candidate speech. Omotenashi is extremely prominent in customer service where staff pay extensive attention to detail and be at the beck and call of guests’ needs. 

One simple example is shop workers bowing to customers as they walk in or out of a store to thank them for coming to the store. Even if they didn’t buy anything, it’s part of Japanese culture to show the utmost level of respect and politeness to customers. 

However, the translation to ‘hospitality’ is such a loose translation as its meaning runs far deeper. Omotenashi is not just hospitality and impeccable customer service – it’s a way of life of the Japanese people. You’re focused on providing the best, regardless of what the situation is. This form of Japanese language is one that’s highly respected and abided by by all locals. 

The origins of omotenashi

So, when did this concept of omotenashi come into existence? It is said that the grandfather of Japanese tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), was the one that established this Japanese hospitality. The great tea master started the tradition of chado (茶道), which translates to “tea ceremony”. In a tea ceremony, every experience is “ichigo ichie” (一期一会), to mean “once in a lifetime experience”. He said: 

“Because life is full of uncertainty, one must engrave in his heart the events of the day as if there is no tomorrow. Today’s tea ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience, and one, along with his guests, must wholeheartedly approach the meeting with sincerity.”

Sincerity for the host is going through immense preparation so that the guests can have the most memorable experience possible. Preparation can take up to a year to prepare for a single tea ceremony. Flowers are picked properly, and so are the tea set, hanging scrolls and confections to match with seasons and guest preferences. If these parts aren’t perfect, the host will search high and low until they find the perfect match. Most tea masters agree that while this is the most difficult aspect, it’s also the most creative and interesting part of the process.

Omotenashi in the tea ceremony doesn’t stop there. Preparation of the tea in front of guests is also crucial. This involves cleaning cups performed in a ceremonial way to show their honesty and transparency. 

One of the roots of the word “omotenashi” is the phrase “omote-ura nashi”. This can be literally translated to “there is no front or back”. This means that guests are provided with genuine hospitality from the heart. Another root of the word is from a phrase that means “to accomplish through both conceptual and physical objects.” This combination, of decoration and intention, provides the best set up for the guests. 

Now in the present day, omotenashi is present in life encounters. Everything from customers treating guests to how one invites a guest to their home and how business partners treat each other. 

Omotenashi vs service 

Outside of Japan, service refers to the relationship between the service provider and the customer. It’s like a transaction between two parties, sometimes involving service fees and monetary returns. 

Japanese omotenashi is nothing like that. Service elsewhere is expected to get something in return. Omotenashi is done without expecting anything in return. It’s genuine from the soul. Japanese people are not providing Japanese hospitality for tips or charges. 

Another difference is that omotenashi is sometimes not as visible as service. It can frequently be intangible. It’s similar in the things done as it is in the things not done. For example, omotenashi needs no recognition. Service outside of Japan might be a topic raised to the customer to remind them they are getting customer service, whereas in Japanese hospitality, it’s the opposite. It’s best to not mention it blatantly, or at all. 

More to omotenashi

Omotenashi doesn’t just stop at customer service. It extends way past that. The wet towel you get when you enter a restaurant is part of that. That toothpick packaged together with that disposable chopsticks is also part of omotenashi. When a worker slips an ice pack into the box they’ve packed your cake with, that’s also part of omotenashi. 

Even the smallest of actions that would usually go unnoticed are part of omotenashi. Sometimes you would have to really look for it to figure out what is considered Japanese hospitality or not!

Don’t be surprised by Japanese hospitality! 

When you come to Japan for the first time, don’t be surprised if you are on the receiving end of omotenashi. Don’t think you need to tip the worker. They’re doing all of that because it’s part of their culture, and they’re happy to do it. All you can do is treat them with the same respect they give you. Omotenashi is beautiful, and you can only truly feel its beauty when you experience it.

7 Weird Gachapons in Japan!

7 Weird Gachapons in Japan!

Capsule toys in Japan are great for unique, fun and cheap souvenirs to bring back. In Japanese, these capsule machines are called gachapon (ガチャポン). You can get capsule toys of all varieties here in the Land of the Rising Sun!

At the normal end of the spectrum, you’ll be able to get keychains, cartoon figurines and magnets from these capsule toy machines. We’re not here to talk about that. We’re looking at the other end of the spectrum. The not-so-normal one. Some would say they’re even weird!

Because there are so many types of gachapon, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find weirder ones on a random street in Japan. But for now, here’s a list of the top 7 commonly weird gachapon toys you can find in Japan!

1. Fuchico on the Cup

The first one is Fuchico on the Cup! This iconic gachapon series started in 2012. It’s not your usual keychain or fridge magnet. This one can interact with your day-to-day life…by sitting at the edge of your cup.

A manga artist called Katsuki Tanaka designed this tiny office lady character after noticing lots of food pictures on social media. To him, those pictures were boring, and wanted to make it more interesting. And so, Fuchico was born, to sit at the edge of cups!

Those who weren’t into gachapon became into it after this release. To this day, this gachapon series has sold millions! She comes in various designs, and some people even collect them!

2. Fake food

Who doesn’t like food? Well, put it on a keychain and people go crazy! Of course, they’re not real. They’re fake food! Fake food gachapon is extremely popular. You can get anything from fake sushi and fake ramen to fake croissants and fake cakes. 

They’re 100% fake, but they look so real that you might think it is! 

Recently as well, fake fruits and desserts are getting so popular. But they all fall under the same category of fake food. This type of gachapon can range from as low as 100yen to 300yen! Sometimes, you would have to try a few times in a machine to get the one you want, so make sure you have enough coins on you!

3. Bottle panties

I have to say this is the weirdest one yet, but hey, weird things become a hit. Just like how vending machines sell disposable panties, gachapons have panties too, but for your bottle!

Now, here me out. No dirty thinking. It’s just an accessory you can put at the bottom of your water bottle. It’s like a coaster substitute since they’re super absorbent. These bottle panties come in a variety of colours and patterns, so you can go on a hunt to collect them all. Dress up all your bottles!

4. Themed Animals

Animals are the cutest, aren’t they? You can easily find animal keychains in gachapons, but what we’re talking about here are themed animals! You can get pugs handing off the edge of your glass or bowl, or cats sleeping in a bookshelf. Think of any random situation and you might just get an animal gachapon in that theme. 

One common collective is office working animals. Yep, you read that right. Animals are holding props like reading the newspaper, working on their laptop and drinking morning coffee. Some people collect these office-working animals and set up a mini office!

5. Mini games

My personal favourite weird but fun gachapon item is mini games! You can find a lot of games in miniature size! That crocodile teeth game? I have a few colours of them at home. Remember that game where you have to stick knives in a barrel and a pirate will pop out? Yup, they have those too.

These miniature games are so handy and convenient when you’re travelling. When you have time to spare waiting for your flight or train, you can whip this out and play with your friends and family. 

6. Miniature furniture

Speaking of miniature, one of the most intriguing gachapons I’ve ever seen is miniature furniture! You can find any piece of furniture in mini size! From tables and chairs to lamps and teapots! 

I heard that people collect these pieces to create a miniature home. It’s like building your dream home but in miniature form. Think of it as Lego for adults…I mean, kids can do it too!

7. Mannequins

Last but not least of weird gachapons is mannequins. One of the newest gachapon creations is by Tokyo-based capsule toy maker So-Ta. Mannequins of various poses are sold in small capsules called “Nude”. There are six poses altogether. With each one of them, you can freely change the poses as the mannequin is made up of multiple ball joints.

There are three colours available: black, white and “stripe” where it’s mainly white with blue accents outlined in red . 

While it might be a weird idea in the first place, it can be used for artists who need a physical representation of a human pose, but can’t afford to purchase the big ones. 

Which weird gachapon do you want to buy?

I have to admit, all of these seven weird gachapons caught my attention. So they did their job well! When playing around with gachapons, don’t limit yourself to the normal and boring. Go out of your comfort zone and find fun and quirky ones like these!