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!

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! 

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!

7 Japanese Manners Survival Tips

7 Japanese Manners Survival Tips

Japanese culture is extremely rich with history and customs. And with a culture so rich comes unique mannerisms only prominent in the country. A lot of these customs are extremely new to us, and that’s okay. I bet the locals don’t expect us to know all of their culture anyway. 

But it’s always a good idea to prepare yourself before your trip to Japan. We wouldn’t want to accidentally disrespect someone. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of 7 top survival tips for Japanese manners. If you learn them by heart before you go to Japan, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll be more than respectful towards the local culture.

1. Learn the basics of the language

When going to a foreign country, it’s no guarantee that everyone can speak English. Don’t assume and learn the local language – or at least the basics of it. 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. Heck, you should subscribe to Nihongo Master right now. We have the best of the best materials to help you learn Japanese!

2. Be cautious of footwear

In Japan, footwear is a big issue. You might find yourself taking off your footwear quite often. Traditional places like shrines and temples, ryokan and izakaya, and even restaurants would require you to take off your shoes before entering. If you don’t know if you need to take them off, ask a staff member. You could also observe the people around you to see if they’re taking off their shoes. 

A lot of tourists don’t know this about Japan, so this is a common mistake. I’d recommend wearing cute and neat socks – they’ll be on display quite a bit. I have holes in my socks…and it gets embarrassing having people see them…

3. Take note of paying etiquette

While Japan is moving towards a cashless society, a lot of the country is still pretty much cash-based. Local restaurants and shops might not accept credit cards, and some taxis would require you to pay cash, too. This is especially so in smaller towns and countryside areas. 

Another thing to take note is that money and cards are not passed from hand to hand. There’s a cash tray where you should put your money or card down and the cashier will take it from there. It might be a bit weird at the start, but it’s how it is here. You’ll get your change and receipt from the cash tray, too. 

Oh, and there is no tipping culture here. If you do leave a tip, the cashier might think that you forgot your change and chase after you to return it! 

4. Learn basic chopstick etiquette

Chopsticks are the go-to utensil here. Don’t expect to find forks in any restaurant here, unless you ask for them. Even if you can use the chopsticks pretty well, there is specific etiquette you gotta abide by.

For one, never play with your chopsticks. Don’t point your chopsticks at people. Don’t wave them in the or. Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another. Don’t stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice upright – this is like a funeral ritual. 

There are more chopstick rules, but those are the basics. Just don’t play with them, period.

5. Know the rules of street drinking and eating

Japan is pretty known for street food, although it’s not the same as some other countries in Asia like Thailand. In fact, the rules of street eating and drinking are different. In Japan, eating and drinking on the streets are frowned upon. Even on buses and trains, you’re generally not supposed to do that. 

However, it’s pretty common to see locals munching on a snack before going to work, especially from a konbini (コンビニ). You would notice that they would be standing outside the store and finishing their food before walking. This is the same for cans from the vending machines. Finish up your food or drink before continuing walking. 

If you’re on a long-distance train ride like a Shinkansen (新幹線), the bullet train, you’re actually encouraged to eat. There are even workers pushing food trolleys down the alley throughout your ride. 

6. Mind your volume level

The Japanese people are really mindful of their space, especially when out in public. Speaking in a high volume is not encouraged in Japan, as you would affect others around you. This is like respecting the space that you share with other strangers.

When you’re with a group of people, try to keep your volume down, especially when on public transport like trains and buses. If you’re on the phone, speak quietly – but not on the train, because you’re not allowed to speak on the phone when on the train.

7. If you don’t know, ask

Last but not least, if you don’t know something, ask. Don’t assume something, because it might be completely opposite from what you expect. The locals wouldn’t be offended if you don’t know something. In fact, they would welcome any questions you might have about their culture and mannerisms! 

You’re good to go to Japan!

These seven survival tips will definitely help you to learn about the local Japanese culture. As mentioned earlier, you’re not expected to know every aspect of local mannerisms, but it’s always good to know a bit. And showing interest would score you brownie points, too

Basic Japanese Particles and how to use them!

Basic Japanese Particles and how to use them!

Are you starting to learn Japanese? That’s fantastic news! Learning a new language is always rewarding and beneficial, and the Japanese language is just as rich as its culture.

The first thing you’d notice when learning Japanese is the particles. We don’t have those in the English language, so it might be a bit difficult to fully grasp its usage when you’re first starting out. Don’t be scared off by the number of particles the language has — it’s actually not that confusing at all!

Now, you’ve come to the right place to get a bit of clarification on the matter. Read on for a brief yet detailed explanation on what Japanese particles are and the various ones we use day-to-day, along with its usage!

What are particles?

In short, Japanese particles are small words which are used in between other words to show the relations of the sentence. Each particle serves a different function. It can vary from differentiating a subject and an object, showing direction of action or motion, to expressing possessive. 

Particles are also known as “post positions”. This means that particles have to be placed after the word they’re relating to directly. 

Sometimes, in informal speech, particles are often dropped. However, it can be unclear what you’re trying to say if you don’t use particles, since the sentence structure can be changed around quite often in Japanese. 

Long story short, particles are pretty crucial in the Japanese language. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and important ones.

は (wa/ha)

First off, we’ll look at は (wa/ha), which is the most common one out of all Japanese particles. This is the first one that Japanese learners will learn. This particle follows the topic of the sentence, making this particle the topic marking particle. The topic of the sentence can be anything — it could be the subject, object, or even a verb. 

This is a general format of this particle:


A は B です。

A wa B desu.

A is B.

Let’s look at an example sentence: 

明日は休みです。

Ashita ha yasumi desu.

Tomorrow is an off day/holiday.

が (ga)

The が (ga) particle acts about the same way as our previous one. Some people get confused as to which to use. You use the “ga” particle to emphasise something or to distinguish it from the rest. It’s also used when you’re first introducing the subject. 

The format is the same:

A が B です。

A が B 〜ます。

A is B.

Here’s an example sentence:

机の上に本があります。

tsukue no ue ni hon ga arimasu

There is a book on the desk.

を (wo)

The next common particle is the を (wo) particle. This particle is used to signal the object of the sentence. Most of the time, it follows a noun or a noun phrase.

This is general format of this particle:


Noun を verb

I (verb) (noun).

Let’s look at an example sentence: 

私はパンケーキを食べました.

Watashi ha panke-ki wo tabemashita.

I ate pancakes.

に (ni)

The に (ni) particle indicates a place or the direction something is moving towards. The particle often follows a moving verb only. It can also be used when you’re talking about the direction of something, like receiving something from others. In that case, it means “from”.

This is a basic format of this particle:


Place に verb.

I’m (verb) to (place).

Here’s an example sentence: 

コンビニに行きます。

Konbini ni ikimasu.

I’m going to the convenience store.

へ (e/he)

This next particle, the へ (e/he) particle, is pretty similar to に. Both particles indicate direction. The difference is that へ emphasises on the direction instead of the arrival. This particle is often specifically for directions, whereas the other one can be used for various types of directional usage. 

This is the general format of the particle:


Location へ verb

I (verb) (location/person).

Here’s an example sentence: 

彼女へ本をあげました。

Kanojo he hon wo agemashita.

I gave her a book.

で (de)

The で (de) particle is another location-related particle. It’s the opposite of へ, as it emphasises location rather than direction. 

Let’s look at the format for this particle:


Location で ….

… at (location).

Here’s an example sentence: 

プールで泳ぎました

Pu-ru de oyogimashita.

I swam in the pool.

も (mo)

This next particle is used like the English word “too” or “also”. The も (mo) particle is used just like in English, to refer to something previously said that’s also true now. This particle replaces other particles like ga, wa or wo when used.

Here’s a general format of this particle:


Noun は Property/Action です。

Noun も Property/Action です。

I (property/action) (noun).

I also (property/action) (noun).

Here’s an example sentence: 

私はペンがあります。

私もペンがあります。

Watashi ha pen ga arimasu.

Watashi mo pen ga arimasu.

I have a pen.

I also have a pen.

と(to)

Similar to the English word “and”, the と (to) particle connects two nouns together, making a single noun. 

Let’s look at the format for this particle:


Noun と noun と noun……

(Noun) and (noun) and (noun)…

Here’s an example sentence: 

パンとご飯とパスタが好きです。

Pan to gohan to pasuta ga suki desu.

I like bread, rice and pasta.

や (ya)

The や (ya) particle is used similar to “and”, but it translates better to “such things as…”

Let’s look at the format for this particle:


A や B や…

…such things as A, B…

Here’s an example sentence: 

日本の都市には東京や大阪があります

nihon no toshi niwa toukyou ya oosaka ga arimasu.

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

の (no)

The の (no) particle indicates possession. It’s like the apostrophe-s (‘s) in English. It can be translated to “it belongs to,..”.

Let’s look at the format for this particle:


Noun A の noun B

(Noun B)’s (Noun A)

Here’s an example sentence: 

私の名前はアズラです。

Watashi no namae wa azura desu.

My name is Azra.

から (kara)

から (kara) can be translated to “from”. This particle indicates the source of an object or action. If the particle is used to talk about time, it translates to “since” or “after”.

Let’s look at the basic format for this particle:


Noun から…

From (noun/action)… / Since (time)…

Here’s an example sentence: 

学校から帰りました.

Gakkou kara kaerimashita.

I came from school.

まで (made)

In contrast to the previous particle, we have the まで (made) particle. This is usually used to show the extent of an action or period of time. It can be translated as “until”.

Here’s a general format of this particle:


Noun まで…

Until (action/time)…

Here’s an example sentence: 

8時から18時まで買い物に行きました。

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

I went shopping from 8AM to 6PM.

ね (ne)

Often used at the end of sentences, the ね (ne) particle is similar to a rising intonation. It can often translate to adding a question tag, asking for confirmation from the listener. It can also be used as a rhetorical device, like saying “it’s a rainy day, isn’t it?”

Let’s look at the format for this particle:


Sentence  ね

(Sentence)…right/isn’t it?

Here’s an example sentence: 

今日はいい天気ですね。

Kyou ha ii tenki desu ne.

It’s great weather today, isn’t it?

よ (yo)

Last but not least, the よ (yo) particle is also attached to the end of the sentence. This particle is used to express a strong conviction about something.

Let’s look at the format for this particle:


Sentence よ

Here’s an example sentence: 

これは私のカバンよ。

Kore ha watashi no kaban yo.

This is my bag!

Master these particles!

Japanese particles aren’t difficult at all. In fact, it can even make your Japanese learning so much easier. If you can master Japanese particles, you’re halfway to fluency…kind of. Good luck! Get a Nihongo Master subscription to learn these concepts fast!

10 Fascinating Facts About the Ancient Culture of Japan

10 Fascinating Facts About the Ancient Culture of Japan

We all know that Japan has one of the richest cultures and history in the world. There’s no doubt about that. Japanese civilisation can be traced all the way back to the first pottery – that’s about 16,000 years ago! You can’t tell me nothing significant happened during that time.

Most of us know Japan for its current, modern fun facts of bright, neon lights and karaoke. But are we well informed of its history? Don’t worry, this won’t be a crash course of Japanese history. We’re going to be bringing you 10 interesting facts about Japan’s ancient culture!

1. Japan was closed to the world for 217 years

Did you know that Japan had little to no contact with the outside world for just a bit over two centuries? From 1635 to 1852, there was a ban on foreign travel due to a law called Sakoku Edict. This also included foreign trade and anyone going in and out of Japan. 

The law was implemented because the country experienced quite a bit of trouble, especially with foreign powers. We won’t go into the gruesome details of what went on back then that caused this passing of the law, but Japan did suffer a bit of a technology lag because of this closure.

The American Navy forced Japan out of closure in 1852, which helped the country to continue developing its unique culture we now know and love.

2. Kamakura was the 4th largest city in the world

There’s a fun fact in this fact: Kamakura was actually the de facto capital of Japan for a bit of time, between 1185 to 1333. During these years, the city was rapidly growing. The population in Kamakura boomed to 200,000, resulting in the city becoming the fourth largest city in the world, at the time. 

Right now, Kamakura’s population is around 174,000, which is slightly lower than how it was back in those days. But that’s because this city is extremely close to the capital city Tokyo, and many are choosing to live in the bright neon lit city rather than the laid back vibes of Kamakura.

3. A woman wrote the first Japanese novel

It’s surprising that, despite the strict rules on women and gender inequality back in the days in Japan, it was actually a woman who wrote the first novel. Not the first Japanese novel, but the world’s first novel. In the year 1010, the novel called The Tale of Genji (源氏物語・Genji Monogatari) is written by pen name Murasaki Shikibu. Her real name is unknown to this day.

The author was born into a less powerful branch of the Fujiwara clan. She also served the Empress Joto-mon’in in the court of Emperor Ichijo. 

A brief summary of the book: it follows the romantic adventures of a son of a fictional emperor and a low-ranking concubine. This was set in the Heian Period in Kyoto. It’s like the Japanese version of Romeo and Juliet, with a few waka poems weaved into the tale. 

4. Japan developed colour printing in 1765

Woodblock printing is huge in Japan. Originally, they were in black and white, but in 1765, coloured woodblock printing was invented. Woodblock printing was used for graphic novels and adverts back in the day. Sometimes it was seen as a threat to Japan’s aristocracy because they were often used to cover political controversies. 

5. An african samurai defended Japan

An African slave was brought to Japan in 1579 by the Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano. The African’s origins and real name is still unknown to this day, but his nickname was Yasuke. It’s believed that it’s the Japanese phonetic estimate of his real name.

Yasuke impressed the most powerful warlord of his day with his strength and size. He became the warlord’s personal retainer and bodyguard, and eventually became a samurai in 1581. In 1582, his warlord was betrayed by the samurai general and was forced to commit suicide. Yasuke witnessed the whole thing. 

The African samurai fought the samurai general, and they went back and forth for a while. Yasuke even served the warlord’s son, who was also attacked by the general and committed suicide. Yasuke surrendered instead of committing suicide, which was a more common action. The general then sent him back to the Jesuit mission in Kyoto. After that, things were a blur as to what happened to Yasuke. 

6. Robots already exists in the 1600s

In the 1600s, Japan was already building robots! There were records of automatons like water clocks in Japanese written records from the 8th century. By the time the 17th century rolled around, the Japanese were already making mechanisms like mechanical puppets, known as Karakuri, which were used for entertainment.

In the 19th century, these mechanical puppets were able to shoot arrows or serve tea.

7. Kabuki was invented by a woman

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese performing art of dance-drama. The first known record of this is in 1603, referred to as kabuki otori. A woman called Okuni gathered a group of travelling dancers and actors, who also engaged in prostitution. 

Kabuki was often happening in the red light district because of this. When samurais started fighting for their favourite performers, the government banned women from performing kabuki. The ban happened in 1629, and women were replaced with young boys.

Despite the replacement, the same issues occurred. Young boys were then banned in 1652. Now, we only see old men in kabuki shows.

8. Japan was vegetarian

The Japan we know now loves their meat. Everything from yakiniku and yakitori to shabu shabu and sukiyaki. However, Japan was initially vegetarian, for about 1,400 years. There was a Buddhist law passed in the 7th century that forbade eating meat.

However, in the 19th century, the Meiji emperor ate meat and broke the taboo. SInce then, the Japanese have opened their arms to the Western ideals of eating meat.  

9. Japanese are both Shinto and Buddhist

Japan is full of temples and shrines. These are two different places of worship for two different religions, but in Japan, the people are both Shinto and Buddhist. This is called shinbutsu (神仏). I’ve asked some of my Japanese pals and they say that, for them, there’s no real difference between the two.

Only 40% of Japanese people subscribe to a religion. Most Japanese people, about 80%, are Shinto and practice Shinto rituals, and 34% practice Bhuddist rituals.

10. Christianity was kept secret in ancient Japan

In 1549, Francis Xavier led Christian missionaries to Japan. They focused on the southern part of the nation, in Kyushu. During the time, Christianity was repressed and had loose bans. Sometimes, there were even crucifixes. By the 1650s, Christianity was kept secret because of all of that. 

In 1864, there was a commercial treaty that simultaneously allowed Christianity among foreigners in Japan, but not the Japanese people themselves. The ban on Christianity was lifted in 1873, and churches started to be built on the islands and coasts of Nagasaki and Kumamoto. 

Which fact of the ancient Japanese culture is the most interesting?

Japanese ancient history doesn’t just end with these 10 facts. There are actually so many more, and loads of them have lessons you can learn from. Hopefully, these 10 facts are enough to ease you into the subject and get you more interested in the ancient culture of Japan!