In one of our Study Saturday language series episodes on the Nihongo Master Podcast, Season 4 Episode 6, we looked at directions in Japanese. This is one of the basic Japanese knowledge that one should master when starting out with learning Japanese. In fact, we can also agree that this is a key essential in any traveller’s Japanese language travelling kit.
Study Saturday is our language series that gives you bite-sized grammar pointers on-the-go. It is formatted just like the Nihongo Master online learning system – we cover the language point, give a few examples through role playing scenarios and listing out the new vocabulary words used. If you’re considering signing up for our program but unsure of how it goes, give our Study Saturday language series a listen to try out!
When you’re in a new country, there’s a pretty high chance of getting lost. I must admit that I’m not that good with directions, so I get lost even in my own country! There are two sections under the category of directions: asking for them and receiving them.
Asking for directions
So what’s the most basic question you’d ask when you’re looking for something? “Where is…”. To ask that in Japanese, it’s “…ha doko desu ka?” (〜はどこですか？) If you’re asking someone you’re more familiar with, drop the polite form and just say ”…doko?” (〜どこ？)
Where is (place/item)?
(Place/item) はどこですか？ (formal)
Say you asked someone where the toilet is — the most common question in the world.
Where’s the toilet?
Toire ha doko desu ka?
If you want to be a little fancy and ask someone, “how do I get to…”, then you can say this: “…ni ha douyatte ikimasuka?” (にはどうやって行きますか？)
How do I get to (place)?
(Place) にはどうやって行きますか？ (formal)
Another important question you might want to have in your notebook is “dono kurai kakarimasu ka?” (どのくらいかかりますか？). This translates to “how long/much will it take?”
How long/much will it take…?
Say you want to know how long it takes to go from the station to the park, you can ask it with this sentence: “eki kara Koen made dono kurai kakarimasu ka?” (駅から公園までどのくらいかかりますか？) You can even use it to ask about how much it’ll cost — “ryōkin ha dono kurai kakarimasuka?” (料金はどのくらいかかりますか？)
Ifyou’re going to ask somebody questions for directions, be prepared to get answers for directions. What’s the point of knowing how to ask when you can’t understand the answer?
First off, you need to know your basic directions like left, right, front and back.
Hidari (左) — left
Migi (右) — right
Mae (前) — front
Ushiro (後ろ) — back
Some directional answers are like “it’s over there” — that’s where your “soko” (そこ), “asoko” (あそこ) and so on come in handy. Here are the general directional words:
Koko (ここ) — here
Soko (そこ) — there
Asoko (あそこ) — over there
Some other important words to note are “massugu” (まっすぐ) which means “straight” and “magaru” (曲がる) to mean “to turn”.
Usually, you combine “massugu” with “iku” (行く) to make “massugu iku” (まっすぐ行く) to say “to go straight”. There are also other directional responses like “turn left” or “turn right”. For those, you have to add the direction to the word “magaru”.
To turn left/right
Left/right + に + 曲がる
“To turn left” it’s hidari ni magaru (左にまがる) and “to turn right” it’s migi ni magaru (右に曲がる). Here’s the basic directions listed:
Massugu (まっすぐ) — straight
Magaru (曲がる) — to turn
Massugu ni iku (まっすぐに行く) — to go straight
Hidari ni magaru (左に曲がる) — to turn left
Migi ni magaru (右に曲がる) — to turn right
When you ask a worker “toire ha doko desu ka?” (トイレはどこですか？), they might respond with directions like:
Massugu itte, kado de hidari ni magatte kudasai.
Please go straight and turn left at the corner.
Let’s wrap it up with a quick vocab recap:
Ryōkin (料金) — price
Kaban (カバン) — bag
Omoidasu (思い出す) — to recall or remember
Jinja (神社) — shrine
Michi (道) — street or way
Eki (駅) — station
Hanasu (話す) — to speak
Hayai (早い) — fast or early
Yukkuri (ゆっくり) — slowly
Ichibanme (一番目) — the first. You can change ichi to another number to make it second, third, fourth and so on.
Kōen (講演) — park
Oboeru (覚える) — to remember
Saisho ni (最初に) — firstly
Deguchi (出口) — exit
Daigaku (大学) — university
Daigakusei (大学生) — university student
Yaku (やく) — approximately
Soto (外) — outside
Jitensha (自転車) — bicycle
Don’t be afraid to ask and receive directions!
How confident are you now with your directional language? I feel so much better every single time I revise it. With this basic guide, i assure you that you have nothing to worry about when asking and receiving directions during your Japan trip! Be sure to tune in to Season 4 Episode 6 of the podcast for the full detailed explanation of directions in Japanese!
As part of our Study Saturday language series on the Nihongo Master Podcast, we cover bite-sized language pointers in a fun and easy way. It’s formatted just like our online learning system: : we’ll go through the grammar point, then have a few role playing scenarios for you to get yourself accustomed to the new grammar language, and end it off with a recap of all the new vocab words we used.
In our Season 3 Episode 11, we learn how to make comparisons with “more than” and “less than”. Have you ever needed to make a comparison before? I do it on a daily basis — whether it’s to say that taking the train is faster than the bus or if coffee’s better than tea.
Regardless of what type of comparison you’re making, we can all agree that it’s a pretty common daily occurrence and we must definitely learn how to say it in Japanese, right? And the best part of it all is that it’s not difficult in the least to do that!
This article is a recap of what was discussed in the episode, so check the full episode out on our podcast (where we have some scenarios for you to practice with). But don’t worry, you’ll be able to get the sufficient amount of information to use the grammar in this article, too!
If you’ve checked out our previous Study Saturday episodes, we covered how to give advice using “hou ga ii” in Season 3 Episode 9. Check out our recap article here, too. You’ll find that a part of this week’s grammar language is pretty similar. In summary, there are three ways to state comparison: “no hou ga…yori”, “yori” and “hodo”.
No hou ga…yori (の方が〜より)
The first way of comparison is by using “no hou ga…yori” (の方が〜より). It’s pretty similar to “hou ga ii” which is a way of saying “you should” in Japanese. “No hou ga” is like saying “more”, and “yori” is like saying “than”. The format is:
A の方が B より(adjective)
(Adjective) A more than B.
Let’s have an example sentence: “I like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate ice cream.“
The adjective in this sentence is “I like” which is suki (好き). Subject A, which is the one that is more than the other, is vanilla ice cream (バニラアイス). Subject B is then chocolate ice cream (チョコアイス). You get this structure:
Here’s another example sentence: “I think horror movies are more interesting than action movies.”
Subject A in this sentence is ”horror movies” (hora- eiga, ホラー映画). Subject B is “action movies” (akushon eiga, アクション映画). The adjective is “interesting” (omoshiroi, 面白い). To say “I think”, it’s “to omou” (と思う). Check out Season 2 Episode 8 of the podcast, or the recap article here.
You get the sentence:
Hora- eiga no houga akushon eiga yori omoshiroi to omou.
The second way of stating comparisons is similar to the first way. You can switch out no hou ga with the particle ha (は), and just use yori to make comparisons. The format is:
A は B より(adjective)
(Adjective) A more than B.
So the above sentence can also be said as:
ホラー映画 (A) + は + アクション映画 + より + 面白いと思う。
hora eiga ha akushon eiga yori omoshiroi to omou.
One thing to note is that you can only use “ha~yori” when the thing that’s being compared is the topic of the sentence. For the previous example, “horror movies” is the subject of the sentence. If the topic of the sentence is just “movies”, then the sentence becomes:
Eiga ha hora- no hou ga akushon yori omoshiroi to omou.
As for the first sentence on ice cream, the topic of the sentence is “vanilla ice cream”. If the topic of that sentence is just “ice cream”, the sentence than becomes:
aisu ha banira no hou ga choco yori suki desu.
See the difference?
Last but not least, the third way of comparing. We use ~hodo (〜ほど) to talk about the opposite construction: X is not as something as Y. “Hodo” can translate to mean “to the extent of”. The format is:
X は Y ほど (adjective in the negative form)
X is not as (adjective) as Y.
Let’s translate this sentence: “I think running is not as fun as swimming.”
X in this sentence is “running”, which is hashiru (走る). Y in this sentence is “swimming”, which is oyogu (泳ぐ). The adjective in this sentence is “fun”, and the negative form “not fun” is tanoshikunai (楽しくない). You will get this full sentenceL:
Hashiru ha ogogu hodo tanoshikunai.
We can also have this sentence using the previous grammar point (using ha…yori), and it becomes:
Oyogu hou ga hashiru yori tanoshii.
Swimming is more fun than running.
If you’re comparing verbs, you don’t say “no hou ga”, but rather just “hou ga”.
It might be a bit overwhelming but let’s have a quick recap:
We use no hou ga…yori (の方が〜より) to make comparisons.
We can also use ha…yori (は〜より), only when the subject of comparison is also the topic.
We use ~hodo (〜ほど) when comparing in the opposite construction of “not as something as”.
In the podcast episode, we used a few Japanese words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:
banira (バニラ) — vanilla
Choco (チョコ) — chocolate
Aisu (アイス) — ice cream
Sukina (好きな) — like
Hora- (ホラー) — horror
Akushon (アクション) — action
Eiga (映画) — movie
Omoshiroi (面白い) — interesting
Hashiru (走る) — to run
Oyogu (泳ぐ) — to swim
Tanoshii (楽しい) — fun
Amai (甘い) — sweet
Shiokarai (塩辛い) — salty
Takai (高い) — expensive
Yasui (安い) — cheap
Chuumon suru (注文する) — to order
Kau (買う) — to buy
Kaban (カバン) — bag
Kutsu (靴) — shoes
Kaimono (買い物) — shopping
Gogo (午後) — afternoon
Iro (色) — colour
Tenki (天気) — weather
Aka (赤) — red
Aoi (青) — blue
Kuro (黒) — black
Shiro (白) — white
Adding comparisons to your everyday sentences quickly levels up your skills in the language. And it makes for great conversations with your friends. Why don’t you give this a try the next time you’re practicing your Japanese? For more ideas and examples of these grammar points, check out the full episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast!
Last year 9.8 million people watched the American Academy Awards on television. This prestigious ceremony celebrates the hard work and dedication that actors, directors, writers and film crews put into the movies they create together. However, it has taken a very long time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to begin to recognize movies outside of Hollywood. This year is the 94th year of the awards, and finally a Japanese movie, Drive My Car, has been nominated in the Best Picture category. The academy is also taking the movie seriously enough to have also nominated it for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. Drive My Car is definitely one to watch, and of course watching movies in Japanese is a great way to learn the language.
Drive My Car
Drive My Car, which is written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, was loved by critics. It is based on the story by Haruki Murakami. The movie is about a renowned stage actor and director who, following his wife’s unexpected death, travels to Hiroshima to direct a production of Uncle Vanya. His journey finds him unraveling some of the mysteries that his wife left behind. It wasn’t just the acting that impressed the Academy panel, but also the impressive filmography. The logistics of making a movie is challenging and requires a professional crew to deal with the ever-changing sets and scenery. The transportation is intrinsic to the success of the movie. In Drive My Car, the filming locations were constantly changing, and this was beautifully portrayed.
There have been a few Japanese movies that have been nominated for an Oscar in recent years, but never for the main category of Best Picture. In 2018, Shoplifters, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda was nominated for Best International Feature Film, and in 2008 Departures, directed by Yōjirō Takita, won the category. Japan also has a strong tradition of animation. Mirai was nominated in 2018 for Best Animated Feature, Boss Baby in 2017 and The Red Turtle in 2016. A Japanese movie has only once won the category though, back in 2002 for the classic Spirited Away. In 93 years of the Academy Awards, Japan, which has one of the oldest movie industries in the world, producing a quarter of all movies made, has only won an Oscar 14 times.
A Changing Industry
The Academy Awards have really diversified in the last few years, with Korean movies like Parasite and Minari leading the way. The Oscars are paying more attention to movies in other languages, and this is opening up the incredible world of Japanese cinema to a far wider audience. This will also help Japan become more recognized not just for a strong tradition of anime and horror movies, but also for outstanding storytelling.
A Japanese movie being nominated for an Oscar is very exciting. This shows how important the Japanese movie industry is to the world.
Want to experience Japanese Cinema in it’s original form without subtitles? Sign up for a subscription to Nihongo Master today and start your journey to Japanese fluency!
One of the most impressive things about Japan is its transport systems. If you see yourself coming to Japan pretty soon, whether it’s next month or next year (fingers crossed the borders are open by then), then be prepared to be on Japanese trains for more than half the time, especially if you’re planning to go to more than one city.
Transportation in Japan, particularly the train system, has been complimented time and time again to be one of the world’s most efficient. And regardless of whether or not you’ve been here, the whole thing can be quite confusing. In our Season 4 Episode 5 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we cleared things up right up while preparing you for your next visit, but here’s a recap of what we talked about (don’t worry, you will have plenty of information on this blog post too).
Transporting in Japan
The Land of the Rising Sun is well connected with all the methods you can imagine — air, land and sea. Flights from one city to another are running even during the pandemic, and ferries and ships are abundant too, linking mainland to the smaller islands. But the most prominent means of transport is land, consisting of everything from buses to taxis, but today we’re looking particularly at railway transport.
And for this type of public transport, which makes up 72% of the country’s transport system, you’d need an IC card. What is it, you ask? It’s a type of rechargeable card used to pay fares on transport and not just that — you can use it to make payments at other places like vending machines, convenience stores, restaurants and other types of transport with just a touch of the card.
When it comes to IC cards, though, there’s more than one company that makes it. There are a total of 10 of Japan’s most popular IC cards, and since 2013, they’re all compatible with each other and able to be used in most of Japan’s large cities.
Suica by JR East Company is the prepaid IC card that you can get in Greater Tokyo, Niigata and Sendai regions. Pasmo is the IC card initially for Tokyo’s railway and bus systems. Icoca by JR West Company is the one mostly used in the Kansai region, including Osaka and Kyoto.
So as you can see, commuting in Japan via train is a breeze — but the price does rack up quite a bit. That’s because there are various transport companies that make up the transport system in Japan. We’ll have a brief look at a few categories: JR System, shinkansen and private railway companies.
First and foremost, the JR System. Quite a vast majority of railway services in Japan are operated by JR. JR stands for Japan Railways, and the six regional companies are divided into the various areas of the country but they all run as one. There are other rail companies under JR that are smaller, existing in major cities, but in most parts of the country, you’ll just get JR.
With the Japanese railway, you’ll get a few types of trains. There’s the local train (futsuu, 普通)and it stops at every station. You also get the rapid train (kaisoku, 快速) — this type of train skips a few stations so it’s definitely faster than the local. Then you have the express train (kyuukou, 急行) and it skips a lot more stops so it’s naturally more expensive. And at the top of that list is the limited express (tokkyuu, 特急) and it’s faster than the express and therefore more expensive.
If you’re planning on travelling mostly by JR train lines, your best bet to saving a few bucks is by getting the Japan Rail Pass — at a flat rate, you’re allowed to travel on virtually all of the JR services for 7 consecutive days which includes buses, ferries and Shinkansen (which we’ll get into in a bit). If you’re only roaming around for a couple of days in just one city, I don’t recommend this one.
The Shinkansen is something not a lot of people don’t know about. The Japanese bullet train is called that because of its design — it looks like a bullet with its smooth, rounded front and back ends. On this type of train, you barely feel the speed — it goes up to 320 kilometres per hour!
There are six main Shinkansen Iines that connect the south end of the island to the north end, and there are three types of trains: kodama which stops at all stops (kind of like the local train of Shinkansen trains), hikari which stops at major stations (so the equivalent of a rapid train) and nozomi which is the fastest service of them all and only available on one line.
With nozomi trains, you’ll pay a hell lot more for the speed, so if you’re going one end to the other, you’ll cut down quite a bit of time.
After you’ve chosen your type of train, you have to choose your type of carriage. There’s the more expensive first-class ones known as the Green Car. Some believe that it’s named after the pale green line drawn on the outside of the car so it’s easily recognised.
After that, you now have to pick your seat — pick between reserved or non-reserved. There are sections for the seat types, and some train types don’t even offer non-reserved seating, so you are kind of forced to fork out the extra cash.
Our last category is the private railway companies. This is where your transport prices bump up even more — switching from JR to these private companies. While the JR System brings you to most parts of Japan, you might find yourself coming across private railways not owned by JR.
Larger cities have bigger private railway companies like some subway lines — so don’t think it’s only the smaller cities that have privately-owned railway systems. Kanto’s private lines connect Tokyo to major tourist cities like Nikko, Chiba and Gunma.
Some railway runs only in the city — take Hakone for example. This mountainous city has a private railway system that climbs up the mountainous terrain. So if you go there from Tokyo, you’ll be switching from JR to private, so you’d have to come out with a bit of extra cash on top of your JR Pass if you bought one.
But don’t worry, popular cities offer discount passes for a flat rate over a period of time — kind of like the JR Pass.
We used a lot of useful new words in the episode, so here’s a list of it:
Jihanki (自販機) — vending machine. You can also call it by its full name, jidouhanbaiki (自動販売機)
Konbini (コンビニ) — convenience store
Inaka (田舎) — countryside
Toshi (都市) — city. A word to mean the opposite of the countryside is tokai (都会).
Futsuu (普通) — local train. This is also the word for normal
Kaisoku (快速) — rapid train
Kyuukou (急行) — express train
Tokkyuu (特急) — limited express train
Kodama (こだま) — local Shinkansen
Hikari (ひかり) — a rapid Shinkansen
Nozomi (のぞみ) — the fastest shinkansen
Guriin-sha (グリーン車) — green car
Shitei seki (指定席) — reserved seat
Jiyū seki (自由席) — non reserved seat. Seki means seat
Katamichi (片道) — one-way
Oufuku (往復) — round trip
Chikatetsu (地下鉄) — subway
Tetsudou (鉄道) — railway
ekiin (駅員) — station attendant
The Reliable Japanese Railway System!
And within minutes, the complicated railway system of Japan has been broken down into three categories — with all the basic vocab words you need on your first few travel trips here. Head over to the Nihongo Master Podcast for the full episode on this topic, and more!
There are four ways to express “if” in japanese. Now don’t get put off by the idea just yet! That’s where the Nihongo Master’s learning system comes in and saves the day: we structure this podcast series very similarly to our online learning system, where we break down the grammar points for you step-by-step in the simplest way possible, and assist you even more with a few roleplaying scenarios filled with the key grammar.
This article is a recap of what we discussed in the episode. Most of the important points can be found in this article, but if you want to listen to the roleplaying scenarios, you’ve got to tune in to the full episode!
There are many ifs in life: If I turn off the light, it gets dark. If I get sick, I’ll eat medicine. I’ll go to the museum if I have time. Or…if someone wants to learn Japanese, I’ll introduce them to Nihongo Master!
It’s no doubt that the conditional form is crucial to learn for any language. After you get over this hurdle of the four ways to express it in Japanese, you can consider it as a level up in your Nihongo journey.
The first way of expressing conditional is to use the particle “to” (と). This particle also means “and”, and it’s also used as a way to connect nouns. But it is also the first conditional grammar we’re looking at.
The format is:
Condition (end with verb or i-adjective) と Constant Result
Condition (ends with noun or na-adjective) だと Constant Result
If (condition), (constant result).
(Constant result) if (condition).
This is used to express constant results. In other words, you’re talking about matter-of-facts — things that are unchanging, like one plus one is two. Usually, you use this for habitual actions, natural phenomenons or the like.
For example, “if I turn off the light, it gets dark.” This is obvious, isn’t it. When you do something, it leads to a result everyone expects. In Japanese, this kind of “if” uses the particle “to”.
The condition in this sentence is “turn off the light”. In Japanese, that’s “denki wo kesu” (電気を消す). The constant result of this sentence is “to get dark”, which is “kuraku naru” (暗くなる) in Japanese. The sentence you get is:
denki wo kesu to kuraku naru.
The next way of expressing the conditional is “ba” (ば). This form is used when you’re expressing hypothetical conditions. I use this the most. The format of this sentence is…
Conditional ば Action
If (condition), (action).
(Action) if (condition).
Here’s an example for this type of conditional sentence: “If I get sick, I’ll eat medicine.”
The conditional part of the sentence is “to get sick”, which is “byouki ni naru” (病気になる). This has to be conjugated accordingly (read below). The action part of this sentence is “to eat medicine”, which is “kusuri wo taberu” 病気になる. The full sentence is:
byouki ni nareba kusuri wo taberu.
Unlike the first one where there are no changes to the word before, this one’s a bit different. Here’s a general breakdown:
For verbs, to put it simply, you change the last う to えば. There’s a slight difference between ru-verbs and u-verbs. For ru-verbs, it’s simple: replace the ending る with れ, then add ば. The format is:
Ru-verb (minus る) + れば
Eg. 見る = 見 = 見れば
As for u-verbs, you replace the last う sound with the え sound, then add ば. The format is:
U-verb (minus last う sound) + えば
Eg. 話す = 話せ = 話せば
I-adjectives are similar to u-verbs: remove the last “i” sound and add “kereba”. The format is:
I-adjectives (minus い) + ければ
Eg. 寒い = 寒 = 寒ければ
Nouns and na-adjectives
The latest category is nouns and na-adjectives. They are so simple: no changes, just add de areba. The format is:
Noun/na-adjective + であれば
Eg. 靴 = 靴であれば
Moving on to the third way of expressing conditional, and that’s “tara” (たら). We use this to express a one-time result, but it’s similar to “ba” as it expresses a general conditional.
Most of the time, tara and ba are interchangeable — ba is used more generally and tara is usually talking about a one-time result. Grammatically, you can’t use ba when the conditional clause doesn’t talk about a potential, or if the subject for both clauses are the same. You use tara instead.
Some call it the past conditional as you use the past tense of any word:
[ Verb (たform) ] + ら + Action
[ Noun + だった ] + ら + Action
[ な-adjective (minus な) + だった ] + ら + Action
[ い-adjective (minus い) + かった ] + ら + Action
If […], (Action).
(Action) if […].
Let’s have an example sentence: “I’ll go to the museum if I have time.”
The action of this sentence is “to go to the museum”, and in Japanese it is “hatsubutsukan ni iku” (初物館に行く). The other part of the sentence is “to have time” which is “hima ga aru” (暇がある). This is the part where you have to conjugate using the format above, so you get “hima ga attara” (暇があったら). The full sentence you get is:
Jikan ga attara hakubutsukan ni iku.
The last way of expressing the conditional is nara (なら). We use this when talking about contextual conditions. This is used in response to a given context — compared to the other ones where the context is set by oneself, this one has to be set by someone else. With this form, we just add it to the plain form of any word.
So you can use it for this sentence: “if someone wants to learn Japanese, I’ll
introduce them to Nihongo Master.”
The conditional part of this sentence is “wants to learn Japanese”, and that’s “nihongo wo naraitai” (日本語を習いたい). The action part of this sentence is “to introduce them to Nihongo Master”, and that’s “nihongo masuta wo shoukai suru (日本語マスタを紹介する). Following the format, you will get this sentence:
Nihongo wo naraitai nara nihongo master wo shoukai suru.
We’ll briefly recap them:
“to” is used to express constant results and actual conditions
“ba” is used to express a hypothetical condition, and is one of the more general forms
“tara” is similar to “ba” as it’s also the other general conditional form, but it’s more for one-time results
“nara” is for contextual conditions
In the podcast episode, we used a few Japanese words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:
Denki (電気) — light
Kesu (消す) — To turn off
Kuraku naru (暗くなる) — to get dark
Byouki ni naru (病気になる) — to fall sick
Kusuri (薬) — medicine
Jikan ga aru (時間がある) — to have time. Jikan means time
Hakubutsukan (初物館) — museum
Narau (習う) — to learn or take lessons in
Shoukai suru (紹介する) — to introduce
Gakkou (学校) — school
Kaimono (買い物) — shopping
Ame ga furu (雨が降る) — to rain
Suzuki (鈴木) — cold
Kasa (傘) — umbrella
Uwagi (上着) — jacket
Kau (買う) — to buy
Wanpisu (ワンピス) — one piece, usually means casual dress
Doresu (ドレス) — dress
Ni atteiru (似合っている) — to suit someone
Betsu (別) — different
Onaji (同じ) — same
Igai (以外) — other than
Hoshii (欲しい) — want
If you like it, share it!
Now you know all the four ways to express the conditional in Japanese! If you learned a thing or two from this article, do check out the full podcast episode over at the Nihongo Master Podcast!
Funerals in any culture are solemn occasions, and especially so in Japan. Japanese people have a set of practices to follow to give the dearly departed a proper sendoff. Unlike most other occasions in Japanese culture which follow Shinto traditions, Japanese funerals follow Buddhist customs.
If you have been invited to a Japanese funeral, it might throw you off a little bit if you don’t know the customs. It’s better to be prepared so as to not offend anyone during the event. This article will cover what you need to bring, what to wear and what to expect during the services.
What to bring
One of the most important parts of a Japanese funeral is the preparation before attending it. You need to be mindful of the things that are needed with you.
First of all, you ought to have with you some Buddhist prayer beads, which are called “juzu” (数珠) in Japanese. Some might say that this is not compulsory, but if you can get your hands on one in advance, it would be ideal.
The most important thing you should not forget is the kōden (香典), which is condolence money for the family of the deceased. The amount is usually used to pay for the funeral, and it can be anywhere from 5,000 yen to 30,000 yen – this is approximately USD50 to USD300. The rule of thumb is that the closer you are to the deceased, the more money you put in.
Be mindful that it is best to give odd numbers as even numbers have negative associations. Definitely avoid the number 4, as the word for the number in Japanese is pronounced as “shi”, which has the same pronunciation as the Japanese word for“death”.
There is a special envelope to put the condolence money in, and you can purchase them at any 100-yen shop in Japan. The best envelope to get is one that is white with a black-and-white ribbon on it. Avoid red-and-white envelopes as they are for celebratory events. In the envelope there is another small envelope, which is where you put the money in. Write the amount on the front of the inner envelope and your name and address on the back, then place it in the larger envelope that’s decorated.
A step extra is to put the condolence envelope in a cloth called the fukusa (福砂). Black, brown or purple coloured ones are ideal. You can get them at department stores in Japan. Ask a Japanese pal to know the proper way of wrapping this cloth.
What to wear
Just like most cultures’ funerals, the best colour to wear to a Japanese funeral is black. It’s best for men to come dressed in a white shirt and black suit, complete with a black necktie.
As for the ladies, black is also the best colour to wear to a Japanese funeral. A non-revealing black dress is the most common type of clothing for this occasion. If you want to wear jewellery, pearls are the most ideal type of jewelry for funerals. Most women opt for one string of pearls as a necklace or pearl earrings as they symbolise the purity of the human spirit.
Avoid bright colours as this is distracting for the occasion.
What to expect
There are two days of visiting — the day before the funeral ceremony, which is the ceremonial wake, and the funeral day. Friends, other than close friends, are expected to only attend one of the days and not both.
The wake, called otsuya (お通夜), usually takes about one to two hours for the deceased’s friends, associates and family to come together. ABuddhist priest would be present to chant a sutra while the bereaved offer incense. Nowadays, those who can’t make it to the funeral go to the wake.
Afterwards, there’s the okiyome (お清め), where guests eat and drink and talk about the good ol’ times.
The funeral day is similar to the wake, but more elaborate. If you are invited to the funeral day, a common ritual held is the intended rite called Oshoukou (お焼香). This is to pray for the soul of the dearly departed. How it goes is you walk to the altar, take a pinch of the insincere and touch it to your forehead. Then, you sprinkle the incense into a different bowl.
You will also be given a chance to view the body in the casket, but you don’t need to feel pressured to do so.
There is no okiyome and instead includes the cremation ceremony, a significant part of the Buddhist faith, which is usually conducted with family only. During this event, the family waits in a designated room while the body is being cremated. Afterwards, the family members will go into a room where the coffin was taken from the furnace. They are each given a pair of chopsticks and proceed to pick up a bone of the deceased from the coffin and into an urn. Only the bones are kept and not the ashes.
Funerals are not only sad but stressful times for the family and friends affected. Therefore, it is crucial that we know the customs and traditions of the deceased’s culture before attending their funeral so as to not cause unnecessary situations during the events.
It’s no secret that Japanese people love their entertainment. A lot of their modern-day practices came from ancient times when the Japanese people back then needed to fill their time with something to entertain themselves. And we’re here to reap the benefits!
In Season 3 Episode 8 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we had a virtual walkthrough of Japan’s entertainment culture — both traditional and modern. From traditional arcades and classic gaming cafes to Japan-born pachinko and karaoke, time and life in Japan is far from boring. You’ll quite literally never run out of things to do, because there’s always something to do, suburban towns and city centres alike.
This article is a recap of what we went through in the episode, but it also has enough information to answer your probing questions.
The first on the list is karaoke. What’s Japanese entertainment without karaoke? This singalong, interactive entertainment is not only famous in the origin country Japan itself, but worldwide. If the estimated global karaoke market of $10 billion won’t convince you, I don’t know what will.
Karaoke is basically singing to an instrumented version of a popular song songaku without the vocals. There’s usually a television that shows the lyrics of the song, so you’re basically taking over the part of the vocalist. The word “karaoke” actually came from a famous entertainment group who created the word after an orchestra went on strike and a machine was used to replace the music. Karaoke means “empty orchestra”.
While most of us know karaoke, do we know its history? This first ever karaoke machine was invented by Daisuke Inoue in 1971, and it’s not in Tokyo — but in a city called Kobe. Inoue performed at an utagoe kissa, a type of coffeehouse where customers can sing along to songs during performances. He was asked by his guests to record his performances so that they can sing along at home. After that, he realised the potential for this untapped market, so he made a machine that’s similar to a juke box so it would play songs when a 100 yen coin was inserted.
Today, karaoke provides a safe space for amateurs and professionals alike to sing their hearts out to their favourite popular songs on the radio. From bars and nightclubs to homemade karaoke stations, karaoke has taken over the world.
But we can all agree that karaoke is less about the singing and more about having a hell of a time with a group of friends and a couple of drinks on the side.
If you’ve been to Japan, you’d realise that there’s no casino here. You’re right, there isn’t one big gambling facility, but there is pachinko. This mechanical game has arcade spaces dedicated to just them scattered all around the country.
So what exactly is pachinko? It’s pretty similar to the slot machine game in Western gambling. While mostly used for gambling, it’s also a sort of recreational arcade game. First built in the 1920s, it was originally a children’s toy. Its first name was “korinto gēmu” (コリントゲーム) based after the American Corithian bagatelle. It was only in the 1930s that this adult pastime became widespread, from Nagoya outwards.
The thing is, gambling is illegal in Japan. But pachinko offers low-stake gambling that allows some sort of legal loophole. How pachinkos operate is pretty similar to the likes of those in casinos, featuring a few slot machines. When you win a pachinko ball, it’s not allowed to exchange it directly for money or remove it from the premises. So you have to take the long way round: exchange it for “special prize” tokens which you then can legally sell it for cash at a separate vendor. (They say separate, but most of the time, they are owned or working for the pachinko companies themselves, which the tokens would be sold back to at a profit.)
So whether pachinko falls under the grey area of Japan’s gambling laws or just recreational fun, it’s no doubt a huge part of Japanese entertainment. I mean, it beats Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore’s gambling revenue combined — that has to count for something.
Who here spent their childhood days stuck behind a pixelated screen and game sticks in a stuffy room with other kids doing the same thing? My after-school days looked just like that. If you think your local arcade is good enough, wait till you see what Japan arcades have to offer.
With multimillion dollar gaming companies like SEGA and Taito, it’s basically a given that any Japanese arcade has the basic 1,000 games — the car races, bike races, basketball and air hockey games are fun, but hold on, if you think that’s all Japanese arcades have, you’re in for a treat. Japan wouldn’t be Japan without their uniqueness and originality.
Physical horseracing is fun and all, but if you’ve never tried and want to see if you’ll do okay, try Japan’s virtual horse racing arcade game. Yup, you don’t have to lift more than a finger — much less get kicked off the back of a horse.
And the tap-dancing arcade games are taken to a whole new level with rhythm games like maimai and taiko drums. Maimai is basically a giant, colourful washing machine-looking screen where you have to hit the buttons that light up in colour. Taiko drums rhythm game uses traditional Japanese instruments to hit when it’s time for the beat count. Who says you can’t learn culture from gaming?
So those are all modern Japanese entertainment, what about traditional ones? Local entertainment is definitely something you should have on your Japan bucket list. Have a break from the brightly-lit, music-blaring 21st century technology and time travel to various decades with Japanese traditional and local entertainment.
There’s everything from performances to sports like kendo (Japanese martial arts) and sumo (traditional competitive wrestling involving rikishi, or wrestler, attempting to push the other out of the ring).
Alternatively, give kabuki a shot. This traditional Japanese entertainment is a classical dance-drama performance that originated in the 1600’s. Initially, Kabuki was done by women singing and dancing to themes that were rather erotic. When the Golden Age of Kabuki in Japan came in the 1700’s where women were banned, all-male dance troupe took over, still presenting its original stylisation of drama, extravagant costumes and elaborate makeup.
You could travel even further back in time to the 1300’s with the Noh performance. Similarly, it’s a traditional dance-drama. In short, kabuki’s a more ordinary performance as compared to the strictly traditional Noh, and while kabuki has face paint makeup, Noh has masks.
If you’re not so much of a theatre person, Japan has their own rendition of stand up comedy. Manzai is a classic and traditional Japanese double act comedy, dating back to the 1000s. Basically, there are two performers: a funny man known as the boke and the straight man known as the tsukkomi. Jokes go back and forth based on cultural references and verbal gags like puns and double-talk.
Another form of stand up comedy, but without as many props, is the rakugo from the 1700s. Performers are to only have a handkerchief and a Japanese fan. They’re to tell a story, playing all parts of the scene themselves.
These are all just the tip of the iceberg of traditional entertainment — there’s more where these came from.
We used so many interesting Japanese vocabulary words in the full episode. So for those of you who’ve tuned in, here’s a list of them for your reference:
Karaoke (カラオケ) — empty orchestra
Ongaku (音楽) — song
Utagoe kissa (歌声喫茶) — a coffeehouse where customers can sing along to songs. Utagoe (歌声) means singing voice, while kissa (喫茶) or kissaten (喫茶店) means a coffeeshop
Tomodachi to asobu (友達と遊ぶ) — to hang out with friends. Tomodachi (友達) means friend, while asobu (遊ぶ) means to play
Osake (お酒) — alcoholic drinks
Pachinko (パチンコ) — recreational arcade game that’s usually used for gambling
Mura (村) — village
Pachisuro (パチスロ) — pachinko slots
Tokushu keihin (特殊景品) — special price tokens
akēdo (アケード) — arcade
Rizumugēmu (リズムゲーム) — rhythm game
Taiko (太鼓) — Japanese traditional drums
Kendo (捲土) — Japanese martial arts
Sumo (スモ) — traditional competitive wrestling
Rikishi (力士) — wrestler
Kabuki (歌舞伎) — traditional dance-drama performance
Kumadori (隈取り) — kabuki makeup
Manzai (漫才) — traditional stand up comedy, and performers are known as manzaishi (漫才師)
Are You Not Entertained?
What did I tell ya — Japanese entertainment is abundant and amusing. And like I said, these are just a handful. Fill up your Japan itinerary with all of these Japanese entertainment and more! Check out the full episode if you want to know more about these types of entertainment mentioned, only on the Nihongo Master Podcast!
Weddings are without a doubt a big event. For some, it’s one of the biggest celebrations of their lives. I must admit, mine would be. Some of us are at the stage in life where we’re getting invites to our friends’ and colleagues’ weddings. What if you find yourself on the receiving end of a Japanese wedding invitation?
Like other aspects of Japanese culture, Japanese weddings have their own unique etiquette. Those of us who have never been to one might be lost as to how to go about it. Not to fret – this article is your go-to guide for how to act, what to bring and what to expect at a Japanese wedding!
For the Japanese, it’s not just the bride and groom becoming one, but also the two families. While nowadays it’s becoming more common for Japanese couples to have a modern wedding in a chapel, traditional Japanese weddings usually take place in a shrine and follow the customs of Shinto religion. Traditional weddings are usually extremely private, with only family members and a select few guests present.
The bride and groom get extremely busy on their wedding day — not only are there a few outfit changes, but there are a couple of rituals to go through before they officially tie the knot. The bride’s first outfit usually consists of a white kimono (shiromuku, 白無垢) to symbolise her submission into the new family. Along with it is a type of head wear consisting of a hood called wataboshi (綿帽子) and a wig called tsunokakushi (角隠し), The full outfit can weigh up to 20kg!
While the bride changes into a few other types of kimono, the groom is only in one outfit throughout: a montsuki haori hakama (紋付羽織袴), a kimono set with his family crest on them. Both of them then usually change into a more modern white dress and suit for the reception.
But before changing into that, they have to stick to their traditional wear for the ceremony rituals — other than the purification, oaths and prayers, the couple has to share nuptial cups — three sizes of sake cups all filled with sake. They sip each cup three times. Then their parents do the same.
This ritual is known as the san-san-kudo (三々九度) each three sets of sips represents something: the first set represents the three couples, the second set represents hatred, passion and ignorance, and the final set represents the freedom from the three flaws.
So now that you briefly know what happens at a Japanese wedding, traditional and modern ones, let’s look at the etiquette for them.
The first thing you need to do is to RSVP. You’ll be given a wedding invite with a reply slip to send back. Fill this one in and post it back, regardless of whether or not you’re going. Take note not to write anything taboo in the slip, and if in doubt, just write “congratulations!”
After RSVP-ing, the tricky part comes in: preparing the wedding gift. In Japanese culture, wedding gifts come in the form of gift money known as goshugi (ご祝儀). On average, it’s three bills of 10,000 yen, which is about 300 US dollars. If you’re the boss to the bride or groom, you’ve got to fork out about 50,000 yen instead.
The wedding gift has to be in a goshugibukuro (ご祝儀袋), a standard envelope for weddings, which you can easily get at local convenience stores.
While the amount you give is not fixed, even numbered amounts are avoided, because this can imply the idea of being split. Oh, and even if you can’t attend, you’re expected to give goshugi, just slightly less in amount.
What to Wear
When it comes to the outfit for the wedding, it’s pretty much the same as other cultures’ weddings. The basic rule: elegant but not too flashy, and don’t wear white. Colours like black and pastels are the most common choices. For the gentlemen, a nice suit with a tie and black shoes does the trick. For the ladies, an elegant dress that’s not too revealing with subdued heels is the way to go.
You can also wear a formal kimono, but only wear it if you know how to wear one properly. If in doubt on whether you can wear one, ask the bride or groom that invited you.
How to Behave
Whichever part of the wedding you’re invited to, be sure to be on your best behaviour. I mean, this goes without saying, just like any other wedding you attend. If you don’t know anything, just ask. It’s better than doing the wrong thing.
During the wedding banquets, be sure to be early or at least on time. They often start on schedule and follow a standard procedure of speeches, ring exchange, cake cutting and the rounds the couple takes to thank the guests.
You might find a bag under your chair, which are gifts for the guests known as hikigashi (引き菓子) or hikidemono (引き出物). Hikigashi is often sweets and pastries, and hikidemono are fancier gifts like cutlery or glasses. On your way out, be sure to thank the newly wedded couple and their parents for the ceremony and gift. Oh, and this is also the perfect time to hand over the goshugi.
If you’re invited to the afterparty, known as the nijikai (二次会), prepare another 10,000 yen. Even though you’ve kind of paid for your part of the afterparty, you shouldn’t go overboard with your drinking. Control yourself, as the purpose of the afterparty is to congratulate the bride and groom. You don’t want them to be taking care of you at the end of the night.
A Unique Japanese Wedding Experience
While we can go into even more detail of how to act and what to do during a Japanese wedding, this guide covers the basics that you absolutely need to know. Basically, as long as the goshugi is prepared, you won’t really get much else wrong.
If you’re interested in more in-depth fun facts about Japanese etiquette, check out our Nihongo Master Podcast for all of that and more!
Expressing wants and needs are one of the most important things to know how to say in any language. After all, we need to know the difference between what we desire and what we require. We covered how to say “I want” in Japanese in Season 2 Episode 10 of the Nihongo Master Podcast (a recap article can be read here). In Season 4 Episode 2, we covered how to say “I need”.
This is part of our Study Saturday language series on the podcast, where we cover useful, everyday Japanese grammar in a fun and easy way. It is formatted just like the Nihongo Master online learning system, so if you’re thinking about signing up for our program, have a taste of what we have to offer by giving our episodes a listen!
This article is a recap of what we covered in the episode, but there’s enough information here for you to grasp the grammar. For more examples, listen to the full episode!
To say “I need” in Japanese, there are two ways. Both are easy and simple. Depending on the context of the situation and the sentence structure, you have to pick which one to use.
Hitsuyou ga aru (必要がある)
The first way to say “I need” in Japanese is using the phrase “hitsuyou ga aru”. You attach it to the plain form of a verb. The format goes:
Verb (dictionary form) + 必要がある
Here’s an example sentence: “I need to study more.”
The verb in this sentence is “to study” which is benkyou suru (勉強する). “More” in Japanese is motto (もっと). Use the format from above and you get this sentence: “motto benkyou suru hitsuyou ga aru.” (もっと勉強する必要がある。)
Let’s translate another sentence: “I need to pack.”
The verb in this sentence is “to pack”, and in Japanese that is nidzukuri suru (荷造りする). So all you have to do is add the grammar point to the end of the plain form of the verb following our format: “nidzukuri suru hitsuyou ga aru”. (荷造りする必要がある。)
There’s another way to express needs, and that is with “iru” (要る). The pronunciation is the same as the phrase for “there is” — like “neko ga iru” (猫がいる) means “there is a cat”. But this “iru” is written differently in kanji.
Usually, we use “hitsuyou ga aru” when the thing that we need is a verb. If the thing that you need is a noun, we use “iru”. When attaching it with the noun, you have to use the particle “ga” (が). The format is:
Noun + が + 要る
Let’s translate this sentence: “we need to plan.”
While this sentence uses a verb “to plan”, which is junbi suru (準備する), it actually comes from the noun junbi (準備) to mean “preparation” or “arrangement”. The sentence following the format above is: “watashitachi ha junbi ga iru” (わたしたちは準備が要る。)
Let’s have another example: “we need money.”
The noun in the sentence is “money”, and in Japanese that is okane (お金). So we can say it as: “watashitachi ha okane ga iru.” (私達はお金が要る。)
In the episode, we have roleplaying scenarios exemplifying the two grammar above. We used so many new Japanese words. For those who tuned in, here’s a list of words for your reference:
Nidzukuri suru (荷造りする) — to pack
Keikaku (計画) — a plan
Junbi (準備) — preparation
Watashitachi (私達) — we
Okane (お金) — money
Motte iku (持って行く) — to bring
Haburashi (歯ブラシ) — toothbrush
Zenbu (全部) — all
Fuku (服) – clothes
Juubun (十分) — enough
Ryokō (旅行) — travel or trip
Genkin (厳禁) —cash
Yoyaku suru (予約する) — to book or make a reservation
Mada (まだ) — not yet
Hikōki (飛行機) — plane
Benri (便利) — convenient
Hayai (早い) — fast
Yasui (安い) — cheap
Okiru (起きる) — to wake up
Mitai (見たい) — want to see
Yaritai (やりたい) — want to do
Noritai (乗りたい) — want to ride
Bento (ベント) — packed lunch
What do you need?
Now you know how to say “I need” in two different ways in Japanese, what do you need? Maybe you need to buy some toiletries for your next trip, or you need to get some lunch. Whatever it is, you can now express them in Japanese! If you need more listening practice, go and listen to the full episode here!
Before I moved to Japan, I had already started learning Japanese for a few months. So when I got to Japan, I thought I would have enough Japanese language knowledge to have conversations and go through day-to-day interactions without any issue. Little did I know that theory wasn’t enough. I needed practice, but until then, I had to get around with what I call “survival Japanese”.
As Japanese is the main language in Japan, most Japanese people are not fluent in speaking or understanding English. Whether you’re just traveling to Japan or moving there, you have to find your way around ordering food at restaurants where no waiter speaks English, or checking out an order at a supermarket with no English guidance.
In this article, I personally came up with 3 tips on how to master the “survival Japanese” so as to boost your Japanese language skills as well as have lesser interruptions to your travels.
1. The magical “sumimasen”
The first one is the magical word “sumimasen” (すみません), which is one of the most useful Japanese phrases you ought to know. Sumimasen doesn’t really have a direct translation per se— it depends on how it’s used. Depending on the context, sumimasen can be anything from a sorry to a thank you, which is pretty bizarre — but the closest translation to help you understand its most common usages is “excuse me”.
One way to use it is to get someone’s attention — like passing through a crowd or calling the waiter over.
Another way of using it is when you want to apologise. You might think it’s gomennasai (ごめんなさい), which is correct, but some would say that sumimasen is the more formal version of gomennasai — others would disagree and say it’s the casual version.
Anyway, regardless of which usage, I think it’s crucial to know this word as it’ll definitely help you out during your Japan trip! If you want to know more about this phrase, check out our Nihongo Master Podcast, Season 1 Episode 1 where we elaborate more on this phrase and three other useful Japanese phrases.
2. Learn the basics
On top of that, if you haven’t already started learning, you might also want to consider learning the basics of Japanese. When going to any foreign country, it’s no guarantee that everyone can speak English. In Japan, the first language is Japanese. And while the people here learn English in school, not everyone can speak it. To make your trip go more smoothly and just for the sake of convenience, learn basic Japanese. Or what I would call, survival Japanese.
Pick up a cheap Japanese learning book and learn how to introduce yourself, how to order, how to ask questions, and how to ask for directions. It’s okay if you can’t put a sentence together quickly. Just the basics like migi (右) and hidari (左), to mean right and left, or de ii desu ka? Which is a question to ask if something is okay, can go a long way. Our Season 4 Episode 11 discusses how to ask questions, even simple ones, in Japanese.
Or alternatively, you should subscribe to Nihongo Master right now. We have the best of the best materials to help you learn Japanese! Plus, we have a free one-week trial!
3. If using English, speak slow
But hey, if you insist on using English, or you don’t have time to brush up on your basic Japanese, try your very best to speak slowly and use basic words. I recommend adding gestures while you speak. Visual cues and basic words are a good combination to get your message across when there’s a language barrier.
Of course, it definitely helps if you know basic Japanese words as well. Like if you want to ask “is the toilet on the left?”, you can switch out some words to Japanese like “is the トイレ at 左??” Baby steps to mastering your Japanese, am I right?
Master Survival Japanese!
Learning a new language is tough, but what’s tougher is putting it into practice when you’re in the environment. Believe me, I personally went through that. And that’s okay. We’re all at our own pace, but in the meantime, while you’re getting there, you can use these three tips to get the ball rolling for you. Good luck!