The crazy popular Japanese fashion souvenir: the Sukajan

The crazy popular Japanese fashion souvenir: the Sukajan

This style of outerwear has been blowing up the streets and Instagram feeds. And when fashion enthusiasts (and even those who are not) find themselves in Japan, snagging a Japanese bomber jacket is basically senseless — it’s the perfect fashion souvenir. 

While it’s been called various names, the Japanese bomber jacket is more famously known as the sukajan (スカジャン). What is it? How did it come about? How do I get one? All the information you need is here — read on to find out!

The Ultimate Fashion Souvenir

If you’ve never heard of the term “sukajan”, maybe you know it by its alternative names — does “souvenir jacket” or “rebel jacket” ring a bell?

The Japanese bomber jacket is basically a type of outerwear, usually made of silk, that combines a typical varsity jacket style with dramatic embroidery of Japanese motifs including tigers, eagles and, of course, cherry blossoms. Silhouette-wise, they’re based on the classic American baseball jackets popularised by 1930svarsity teams. And Japan is quite obsessed with baseball, so it’s no surprise that this style of clothing caught on.

You probably would’ve seen the sukajan if you’ve watched the 2011 film, Drive, with Ryan Gosling donning a similar one — a white silk quilted bomber jacket with an embroidered golden scorpion on the back.

This puffy and loose, ribbed-collared and cuffed-sleeved, cropped and embroidered jacket is a fashion piece that’s both a staple and a trend, casual and dressy — and is more than just a bold fashion statement; it’s a piece that retells your Japan experience. At least, that was how it began — and also how a lot of sukajan wearers are using it for.

Origins of Sukajan

Like most popular fashion designs, sukajan has a long, rich, cultural origin. In fact, just the name itself will give you a brief insight into where it came from. The term is believed to be a portmanteau — it combines the end half of the name of the naval base city, Yokosuka (横須賀), with the first half of the Japanese katakana translation for “jumper” (ジャンパー) which is just “jan” (ジャン). Put it all together and you get “suka-jan”. 

Let’s travel back in time to the era of World War II — Yokosuga in Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan was the first few naval bases in Japan. American GIs are basically the original creators of this distinctive embroidered style. In fact, there was one specific American serviceman who started it all. When it was around the time their occupation drew to a close, he had the brilliant idea of taking his normal bomber jacket to the local tailor to have it embroidered, converting something that was regarded as a symbol of war into a priceless souvenir. His fellow servicemen followed suit as soon as they laid their eyes on this creative beauty. 

The original sukajan combined the two countries’ symbols like cherry blossom and dragons, and  geisha (芸者) and eagles. These motifs remain, to this day, as common designs on sukijan. What’s not as common nowadays is to see maps as motifs — but back in the day, some American soldiers did request to have them embroidered to commemorate their time there. As each soldier has their own experiences infused in their bomber jacket design, authentic and hand-sewn sukajan never had two of the same styles. 

More and more American soldiers wanted to bring back this one-of-a-kind souvenir to the U.S. as gifts, or even to sell.  The demand for these unique Japanese bomber jackets boomed, and the Japanese tailors had to be crafty — they pieced together leftover parachute silk with other fabrics to feed these demands. 

As the sukajan was getting more popular in America, Japan was adopting the American prep style during the 1950s to 1970s. This whole fascination with American clothing and pop culture is known as the “ametora” effect — publications like Popeye magazine influenced the local trends and those who were looking to “westernise” their fashion style. ‘Bad boy’ icons like James Dean and Marlon Brando were all the rage in Hollywood, and kimonos were being swapped with biker jackets.

But not everyone was into it. Some took on the sukajan as an alternate outerwear and a way of making a statement — a defiant one. Just like how the Schott Perfecto leather jacket acts as a symbol of rebellion in the U.S., sukajan rapidly became associated with Japanese gangs like Yakuza and juvenile delinquents like the Yankii subculture, hence the nickname “rebel jacket”.

The Recent Evolution

The sukajan came a long way from a mere souvenir jacket to a symbol of rebellion, and now a fashion trend. While it has remained in Japan as an iconic fashion clothing piece, the rest of the world didn’t really know what sukajan was — even in America, the souvenir jacket began to fade after the war.

It wasn’t until the mid-2010s did the sukajan see its revival outside of Japan — I’d say we have Ryan Gosling to thank for that. Other Hollywood celebrities like Drake and Kanye West also added the iconic Japanese souvenir jacket to their wardrobe, and fashion magazines like Menswear Style declared the silk bomber jacket to be a “defining fashion item”. 

Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent incorporated silk bomber jackets featuring floral motifs into their collections. Streetwear brands, too, didn’t pass on the chance to be in the loop with this timeless style; Adidas and Converse were quick to release their own rendition of souvenir jackets, by incorporating the style of prints onto other fashion pieces like sneakers. 

We have to admit: sukajan went from an item with a purpose to now holding mainstream appeal and becoming a worldwide fashion trend. Its journey is quite extraordinary, and personally, I see no limit to the reaches of this Japanese bomber jacket.

The sukajan, as we now know, isn’t just a fashion piece — its history and cultural essence is embedded in every stitch. Now that you know what to look out for when shopping for a Japanese bomber jacket, are you ready to own one? It makes a great conversation starter with someone else who has it on, too! Make a friend by buying a sukajan!

Top 10 Best Things to Do in Nara, Japan!

Top 10 Best Things to Do in Nara, Japan!

Nara is one of the top cities to visit when travelling to Japan. A simple Google search is enough proof of that. This city is even older than its neighbour counterpart, Kyoto, which is the country’s ancient capital city. You already can guess the historical value of this city.

Nara is rather small. You can explore the entire city centre on foot, discovering temple after temple, shrine after shrine. That makes the city a perfect day trip if you’re staying in Osaka. From local eateries to roaming friendly animals, it’s a city you definitely want to include in your Japan itinerary. Here are some activities you’d want to consider when planning your Nara itinerary.

1. Say hi to the deers in Nara Park

You can’t visit Nara and not say hi to the friendly and adorable deers at Nara Park. It’s like a rite of passage to the Nara experience. There are more than 1,500 wild deers roaming around the city. The locals see them as natural treasures, and rightly so. There are tons of stalls that sell deer crackers for you to feed these cute animals.

Here’s something you should try: bow to a deer before feeding them. They might just bow back! Stay alert, though. These deers are mostly friendly, but they do have their days. Never run away from them. Just be stern and show your hands with no food in them to the deers.

2. Explore Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Credit: moskomule on Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re a big fan of nature, you might want to pop by Kasugayama Primeval Forest. It’s not far from Nara Park at all. There’s a “forest bathing” experience that you can sign up for. In the duration of three to four hours, you’ll be guided through the woods with a qualified guide. Lay down on the carpet-like, soft moss and observe the forest insects as the guide explains them all to you. There are benefits to this forest bathing experience, and you have to go through this once-in-a-lifetime experience to know what they are.

3. Visit Kasuga-Taisha Shrine

Credit: Gideon Davidson on Flickr Creative Commons

While at Nara, you have to stop by Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. This is one of the biggest sightseeing attractions in the city. The story is that the deity enshrined there, called Takemi Kajichi no Mikono, rode a mystical white deer to this city from Ibaraki prefecture. This legend is the reason why deers are so dearly protected. At this shrine, you definitely can’t miss the rows of bronze lanterns that decorate the grounds. Worshippers donated them over the years. If you have time, pop by the museum there as well.

4. Stay in a temple

One of the most authentic experiences you can have in Japan is staying in a temple. You can do that in Nara. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is definitely not to be missed, regardless of whether you’re a religious person or not. The most popular temples to stay at are Gyukuzoin Temple and Koyasan. You’ll be able to stay in a tatami-style room with futons and sliding doors. Your stay will include a Japanese-style dinner, too. Wake yourself up in the morning to join the morning prayers and ceremonies that they have every day.

5. Go on a shopping spree in Higashimuki

Credit: shankar s. on Flickr Creative Commons

Cities in Japan always has their own shopping street. Nara is no different. Shopaholics, you’ll be glad to know that Nara’s Higashimuki Shopping Street will satisfy your shopping cravings. It’s like the city’s very own Takeshita Street of Tokyo! You’ll never see this area empty. It’s always full of energy. The best part about going to these shopping streets in Japanese cities is that you might be able to find goods that are exclusive to the city. Everything from basic souvenirs to handmade crafts is there for your choosing.

6. Wander Naramachi streets

Credit: chiron363 on Flickr Creative Commons

Nothing beats a good wander. Japan’s perfect for that. Nara is a former merchant district. That explains the exquisite buildings. Take a stroll without checking Google Maps every five minutes and let yourself get lost. The streets of Nara still hold the charm of the old days. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

Alternatively, you can go on a guided tour by one of the locals. If you see a man standing next to a rickshaw, approach him. He’ll pull you down the streets while giving you some explanation along the way. Grab this photo opportunity!

7. Slide Down Buddha’s Nostrils at Todaiji Temple

Credit: Su—May on Flickr Creative Commons

What’s a sightseeing trip in Japan without a visit to a temple? The Todaiji Temple is the home to a few record-winning structures. The buildings themselves have been burned down twice, but the one we see today was rebuilt during the Edo Era. This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also the headquarters of Kegon School of Buddhism.

At this temple, there’s the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. It’s of Vairocana Buddha, the Buddha of Light. It’s said that if you slither through the nostrils of this 14.8 meters tall statue, you’ll be granted a life full of happiness.

8. Explore Dorogawa Onsen

Who wants a bit of adventure? Not too far from the city centre of Nara is Dorogawara Onsen, a hot springs town with a peaceful ambiance. Exploring the area can take up a day or even two, but you wouldn’t want to miss the lantern-decorated streets and nature.

Nearby, you can hike to the suspension bridge which is one of the largest in all of the country. It crosses Mitarai Valley. The view is breathtaking. Whether it’s a summer outdoor adventure or a winter soak in a hot springs bath, Dorogawa Onsen town is a must-visit.

9. Stroll Around Isui-en Garden

Credit: TravellingOtter on Flickr Creative Commons

Before you stop by Todaiji Temple, stroll through the conveniently located Isui-en Garden. This spacious and peaceful gardens is one of the highlights of the entire Kansai region. There are various types of flowers blooming all year round. Ponds and pathways run throughout the grounds.

10. Try the Asuka Nabe

The Japanese travel around the island nation for food. Nara is famous for its asuka nabe dish. This is similar to hot put, but with an abundance amount of chicken or any meat of your choosing! This kind of dish is usually eaten during winter, but don’t let that stop you if you’re visiting during other times of the year.

Explore Nara!

The historical status is pretty clear in Nara. You can feel it in the air. With so many things to do and places to see, a day-trip might be too short to explore this beautiful city. Take that into consideration when planning your Japan trip!

Learn Essential Okinawan Language Phrases helpful in your travels!

Learn Essential Okinawan Language Phrases helpful in your travels!

Okinawa World park lion statues

You can find island heaven in the southernmost part of Japan. Okinawa is where locals escape the city life of the mainland and foreign tourists go for a taste of paradise. 

The sun, sand and sea aren’t the only things that make the island so great. Okinawa has its own unique language that makes the heart of its culture. And surprisingly, it’s not your average Japanese! No matter how good your Nihongo is, you’re going to struggle a bit with the Okinawan language.
Let’s get you started with a few essential Okinawan words and phrases. Here’s a list of them to get you through day-to-day interactions and a few unique ones! 

Mensore (めんそーれー)

We know that in Japanese, to say “welcome”, it’s “youkoso” (ようこそ). While the Okinawans can still understand that, they have a different way of greeting. In Okinawan language, it’s “mensore” (めんそーれー). It’s similar to how we use “aloha”.
If you are lucky enough to visit Okinawa, you’ll be hearing a lot of this. The locals say this to welcome tourists to their islands.

Haisai (はいさい)

If you want to greet an Okinawan, say “haisai” (はいさい). This can mean “good day”, “good morning” or “good afternoon”. It’s used as a universal greeting for all day round. It’s kind of like “konnichiwa” (こんにちは). 

The feminine version to this is “haitai” (はいたい). It has a more polite and softer tone to the greeting.

Ganjuu yami? (頑丈やみ)

Another greeting in the Okinawan language is “ganjuu yami?” (頑丈やみ?) This can be translated as “how are you?” This is the informal way of this greeting. If you want to greet someone formally, you change it to “ganjuu yaibiimi?” (頑丈やいびーみ?)

Nageesayaa (長ーさやー)

This next one is one I like personally. To say “long time no see” or “it’s been a while”, say “nageesayaa” (長ーさやー). It’s kind of like the equivalent of the Japanese “hisashiburi” (久しぶり).

There are a few ways to say this. The rest aren’t as common, but here’s a list of them:
Wuganduu saibiitan (拝ん遠さいびーたん)
Wuganduu sanu (拝ん遠さぬ)
Wuganduusa (拝ん遠ーさ)
Wugandii saibiiyaa (拝ん遠さいびーやー)
Miiduu sanyaa (見ー遠さんやー)
Miiduu saibiinyaa (見ー遠さいびーんやー)

Okinawan store front

Hajimiti wuganabira (初みてぃ拝なびら)

When you meet a new Okinawan person and want to say “please to meet you”, you can say this phrase. “Hajimiti wagunabira” (初みてぃ拝なびら) is kind of like the Japanese “hajimemashite” (初めまして). If you look closely, it kind of sounds the same. They both use the same kanji in the beginning.

Wassaibiin (悪さいびーん)

This next one is important. If you did something wrong and want to apologise, say “wassaibiin” (悪さいびーん). This is how you say “sorry” in the Okinawan language. You can definitely say “sumimasen” (すみません) or “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい), but how about trying this new phrase? It might be even more sincere if it’s in their own language.

Karii (かりー)

We have “cheers”, “salute” and “kanpai” (乾杯), and so many more worldwide. In Okinawa, you say “karii” (かりー) when raising a glass and toasting. Don’t forget to do this before taking a swig of your refreshing, cold Orion beer! 

Nifee Debiru (御拝でーびーる)

Now, how do you thank someone in Okinawa? Sure, you can say “thank you” or “arigatou” (ありがとう). But in Okinawan language, it’s “niffee debiru” (御拝でーびーる). It’s how you show appreciation to someone. Sometimes, they phrase is followed by “ippee”. It’s like the extension of “very much” to make “thank you very much”.

Some say that back in the 60s, thanking someone was “nihee debiru” instead. Okinawan language is ever-evolving.

Wakayabiran (分かやびらん)

“Wakayabiran” (分かやびらん) is useful because it means “I don’t understand”. When I was in Okinawa, I sometimes couldn’t understand what they were saying. So, I used this phrase a lot! It’s similar to “wakarimasen” (分かりません). They’re even using the same kanji!

Kwachii sabitan (くぁちいさびたん)

After a meal, you’d want to show your appreciation for the delicious meal. In Japanese, you’d say “gochisousamadeshita” (ご馳走様でした). In the Okinawan language, it’s “kwachii sabitan”. They’ll be even more convinced you loved the food now that you express it in their language!

red gate of Okinawan temple

Uchinanchu (うちなんちゅ)

Okinawan people are known as uchinanchu. This describes those who are born in Okinawa as Okinawan natives. Some said the name came from the word “Okinawa” itself. “Okinawa” became “okina”, which then changed into “uchina”.

Okinawan people refer to themselves as uchinanchu. They refer to people from mainland Japan as “naichi”.

Uchinaaguchi (うちなあぐち)

So, uchinanchu is the people. The Okinawan language is then ”uchinaaguchi”. Uchinaaguchi compromises words and phrases used during the Ryukyu Kingdom. There are influences of various types of dialect including Yaeyama and Miyako dialects.

Back in the day, uchinaaguchi had the name of “hogan” instead, to refer to the Okinawan language.

Nankurunaisa (なんくるないさ)

This next phrase has the meaning of “don’t worry, it’ll be alright”. Nankurunaisa (なんくるないさ) symbolises the relaxed vibes of Okinawan people. The phrase has a heavier connotation than that. It’s not really used in daily conversation as much as “daijoubu” (大丈夫).

It’s a way of expressing optimism and it was part of the phrase “makuto soke nankurunaisa”. That phrase has the same meaning as the English proverb “Man proposes, God disposes”. If someone does their best and is done right, then something will come of it.

Churasan (美さん)

To describe something beautiful and gorgeous, you can say it as “churasan” (美さん). It’s a word often used in Okinawa. You can see many things described with the adjective “chura”. For example, “chura sandal” is the name of a type of sandal that fused the words “churasan” and “sandal”.

It uses the same kanji as “utsukushii” (美しい).

Deeji (でーじ)

Last but not least, we have “deeji” (でーじ). This word is like the word “very”. It’s used the same way as “meccha” (めっちゃ) and “totemo” (とても).

You can one-up your game by using “shini”. It’s a step above “deeji”. It’s like saying “extremely”.

temple with red lanterns

With these essential Okinawan words and phrases, you’ve already got your foot in the door. The only way is up from here. Now, when you go to Okinawa, you can start to practice using these words with the Okinawan natives!

7 Unique Types of Seatings At Japanese Restaurants

7 Unique Types of Seatings At Japanese Restaurants

Introduction

It’s no secret that Japanese culture is rich and abundant. When we visit the country, it’s like stepping into a whole new universe. That includes restaurants and the various types of seatings available. 

What do you notice when you walk past the noren (暖簾) curtains at the restaurant entrance? You might notice a few seating arrangements that aren’t available in your home country. Don’t panic yet. Here’s a list of the most common types of seatings you can find at restaurants in Japan!

Counter seating (Kauntaseki)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eastofnyc/4099658740/


The most common type of seating arrangement you can find in Japan is the counter seating. It’s known as “kaunta seki” (カウンター席) in Japanese. You’ll find counter seats in various types of restaurants. Both formal and informal dining have them. It’s not exclusive to one or the other.


You get them at fast food chains like ramen shops (ラーメン屋, ramen shop) and izakaya (居酒屋, Japanese gastropub). More formal restaurants include kappo (割烹) type restaurants. This is a kind of dining where the chef crafts your dishes right in front of you. 


These counter seatings are effective in a few ways. The first is to accomodate more individual diners, which is common in Japan. Restaurants don’t have to set up entire tables. This saves space as well. Another way is making high-class dining establishments more informal in atmosphere. On top of kappo cuisine, there’s obanzai ryori (おばんざい料理). This type of cuisine offers home-style food in a relaxed atmosphere. Customers are usually seated at counter tables.


The counter seating gives the opportunity for customers to chat with the chef. That’s one of the best ways to get insights about Japanese cuisine and culture!

Table seating (Teburuseki)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bdrc1989/44706905444/

Moving on, we have the table seating. In Japanese, you can say it as “teburu seki” (テーブル席).This is a type of seating that’s influenced by the West. And as the name suggests, you’re going to sit at a normal table. Table seating is common in both casual and formal restaurants.

And it’s your standard table seating arrangement. Usually, the staff member will ask the number of people dining in at the restaurant entrance. The staff member will show you to your table afterwards. If the restaurant offers both counter and table seating, they might give you the option to choose. 

In some restaurants, you can find a big central table that’s shared by a few different groups of people. I have never dined at a shared table before. But I heard it’s customary to acknowledge the other diners with a nod before sitting down.

Booth seating (Boosuseki)

https://unsplash.com/photos/3hdPTXwI-lc
Our next type of seating is also influenced by the West, and that is booth seating. It’s like those diner seats. In Japanese, it’s called “boosu seki” (ブース席). With this type of seating arrangement, you get a normal table with benches on either side of it. 

Booth seating arrangement is common in casual dining places like family restaurants (ファミレス). Some izakayas and stalls offer booth seating, too. Most of the time, Restaurants that specialise in group dining will have booth seating. Yakiniku (焼肉) barbecue or shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) restaurants definitely have them. That’s when everyone at the table is sharing a single grill or pot in the middle of the table.

Recessed Floor Seating (Horigotatsu)

The next type of seating in Japan is the horigotatsu (掘り炬燵). This is a traditional type of seating arrangement where the table is low to the ground. The floor beneath it is lower than the floor level so people can have their legs there. Horigotatsu seating can be traditional or modernised to cater to the foreign tourists. You can experience sitting on a tatami area without having to cross your legs. It’s like sitting on a chair! 

Most of the time, you can get horigotatsu seating arrangements in Japanese restaurants. Those establishments for group dining will have them more than the others. 

Heated Table Seating (Kotatsu)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/marimizu/12061498503/in/photolist-jnQkhK-GRvdk-tqF6-DZRXk-E6fTM-858Jr-jnNL5B-7CzDbi-7CzD5R-7CzD28-7CDsYU-7CzD7P-7CzD3T-3eso6E-jnP1V8-safM-5TBSZp-5DWiig-7gzaE-6xwAcA-enibFn-D6vRq-r1m4y-6dG99W-vGgio-NC1go-2inPUra-2inNM4W-enSKK7-2inNM3U-KALMm-r53FK-cLqP1m-dZ32A-6dBYYD-enSKfb-6dG8F9-5XUHKC-4dvRyE-GWa4i-gyTnfq-bzWtsg-G4hs91-LwSo6d-KpKbM-e1JRmd-N6AHV-pHeHeW-5HwNt3-dxEqR5

This next type of seating features a heated table. Kotatsu (こたつ) is also used in Japanese homes but also in restaurant. There’s electric heating built into the bottom of the table. Not only that, you’ll be able to find a special type of quilt cover over the table frame. This is so the heat stays beneath the table to warm your legs.

You won’t be eating on the quilt covers, don’t worry. There’s usually a tabletop placed on top of the quilt cover as a surface for eating and drinking. This type of seating was common back in the days before the development of other types of heating. Nowadays, this is less common in homes. There are still some restaurants that offer kotatsu for a unique local experience.

Tatami Seating (Zashiki)

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We mentioned tatami seating earlier. In Japanese, it’s called zashiki (座敷). This is a traditional type of seating arrangement that features a low table on top of tatami flooring. You’ll get this type of arrangement in more traditional Japanese restaurants. 

Tatami seating is available in open dining and private dining rooms. When dining at a tatami seating, you’re expected to take off your shoes before stepping onto the tatami. It’s customary to place the shoes facing away from the tatami, too. This is so that when you do put your shoes back on, it’s easier. This type of seating arrangement is one of the most authentic Japanese dining experiences.

Private Room Seating (Koshitsu)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnjoh/6339141620/

Last but not least, there’s the private room seating. We mentioned in the tatami seating section. It’s called “koshitsu” (個室) in Japanese. You can find private room seating in both traditional and Westernised restaurants. 

This type of seating arrangement is best for gatherings, business dinners and parties. The most common place you can find koshitsu is at an izakaya. As a group of people can get rather loud and noisy. The private room seating arrangement is good for privacy for the group without disturbing the other guests at the restaurant. 
A fun fact to note is that the seat of honour at this type of seating arrangement is the one furthest away from the door!

Conclusion

At Japanese restaurants, you get a mix of familiarity and authenticity. There are some seating arrangements which you can only experience in Japan. Sit on tatami while slurping down a bowl of noodles and much on sushi bites!

The Best 10 Fun Things You Can Do in Japan for the Summer!

The Best 10 Fun Things You Can Do in Japan for the Summer!

Say goodbye to knits and cardigans, and hello to linen dresses and straw hats! Summer is just around the corner. The weather has warmed up enough for us to have picnics in the park and midday strolls. 
Japan’s natsu (夏, summer) has more to offer than that. In fact, this is the season where all the festivities and events happen. Sure, it gets pretty humid and hot during Japanese summer, but it’s all worth it when you know what you’re going to get. Here are the 10 best things you can do in Japan in summer!

1. Go to the beach

Shinto torii gat at a beach

What’s summer without the beach? If you’re wondering what to do in Japan during the summer season, one of the best things is going to the beach. In Japanese, beach is hama (浜), but people understand when you say bīchi (ビーチ)
Regardless of which city you’re in in Japan, there’s always a lovely beach nearby. But if you’re really looking for the best beaches in the country, the southernmost part is where you should go. Okinawa’s beaches are top quality. The umi (海, sea) is crystal blue and the suna (砂, sand) is soft like a pillow.

2. Attend local festivals

Orange lanterns in Japan

The best part about Japan’s summer is the local festivals. You wouldn’t even be wondering what to do in Japan when every other street has rows of yatai (屋台, shop stand). These street stalls have everything from street food to local games. You can participate in them to win prizes! 
These local matsuri (祭り, festival) can go on all day for a weekend or even weeks. If the heat is too much for you to bear, you can pop by in the evening when it’s cooler. A lot of locals would attend these festivals wearing traditional clothes. It’s both entertainment and cultural immersion! 

3. Watch the fireworks

fire works over water

Summer is when you can buy fire crackers in stores for yourself, and watch the firework shows on display. There’s nothing quite like watching hanabi (花火, fireworks) in Japan during the summer. They’re a big deal here. Families, friends, couples and colleagues come together to watch this spectacular show. 
Usually, Japanese people watch the firework show after visiting the local festival. If you’re planning to watch the fireworks in Japan during the summer, be sure to bring a mat and some snacks!

4. Refresh yourself at a beer garden

Beer Garden Maiami
Credit: S.Brickman on Flickr Creative Commons

The heat and humidity during Japanese summer can get rather rough. But don’t worry, Japan has thought of a solution for that. In summer, beer gardens pop up everywhere in the country so you can refresh yourself with a swig of bīru (ビール).
These beer gardens don’t only sell beer. There are other alcoholic beverages like cocktails. For non-drinkers, there are non-alcoholic drinks like soft drinks as well. They’re very family-friendly as well, so parents out there, you’re welcome to join the beer garden party!

5. Swim at water parks

Little girl splashing at a water park.
Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re not much of a beach person but still want a soak, go to the water parks in Japan in summer! Wōtā pāku (ワォーター・パーク) is a huge activity that the Japanese locals do during the summer in Japan. You can not only swim (泳ぐ) but also slide down the fun water slides, lie down on big floaties and enjoy the wavepool!
Because it’s such a popular thing to do in Japan in summer, it can get pretty crowded. I would advise to go during a weekday instead of a holiday or weekend.

6. Jam at music events

Music stage with balloons
Credit: Risa Ikeda on Flickr Creative Commons

Whether you’re a music lover or not, you have to attend a music event in Japan during the summer. They’re all anyone ever raves about. These エベント can be both indoors and outdoors. The ones I’ve attended have been in the mountains or at big open spaces.
Music events are the best for making new friends and enjoying the summer nature. And, of course, enjoy the ongaku (音楽). Who knows, you might discover a new artist or two while you’re at it.

7. Beat the heat in Hokkaido

field of flowers in Hokkaido
Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

Not all of us are fans of the heat and humidity. I know I’m one of them. I have some news for you: you can beat the heat by going up north to Hokkaido. This prefecture is the furthest away from the equator compared to the rest of the country.

It’s much cooler up there. Some even say it’s not humid at all!

When in Hokkaido during the summer, you can go around the hana (花) gardens and parks. The field of bloomed flowers is a sight just as spectacular as the powdered snow Hokkaido is known for.

8. Cool down with shaved ice  

Shaved ice with Azuki
Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

Other than beer, there’s another way to refresh yourself: kakigōri (かき氷). Translated to shaved ice, locals love this summer dessert. There’s bound to be a store or two at the street stalls at festivals that sell this. 
You can get any kind of flavour and topping for your kakigōri. There’s usually syrup poured on top of the shaved ice with common toppings like corn. Depending on the store, you can get interesting ones!

9. Watch fireflies

fireflies
Credit: Koichi Hayakawa on Flickr Creative Commons

Head out of the city centres in Japan to the countryside. These areas are best for firefly watching. Both locals and travellers alike head out to inaka (田舎), or rural areas, to catch some fireflies in action. If you’re not sure exactly where to go and how to get there, you can book a tour that’ll do the heavy lifting for you.

10. Wear a yukata

two people in kimono walking down a narrow Japanese street with parasols.

Last but not least, the activity you can do in Japan during summer is wearing a yukata (浴衣). This is a version of the kimono (着物), the traditional wear of Japan. It’s made from a lightweight cotton fabric that’s used only during the summer.
You can wear a yukata to a local festival, any temple or shrine. Or you can just walk around the street to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture. What better way to experience a country than to put yourself in their shoes.

Get ready for Japanese summer!

These ten activities are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more you can do in Japan in summer. You might even think you don’t have enough time to do them all! Which summer activity are you excited to do in Japan?

Want to Work in Japan? Top 10 Most Popular Jobs for Foreigners

Want to Work in Japan? Top 10 Most Popular Jobs for Foreigners

Some of us dream of working in Japan. It’s like an unachievable fantasy. What if I told you that working in Japan is not that far-fetched of a dream at all? In fact, it’s totally possible! There are more and more job openings for foreigners in Japan as we speak. Some of these jobs won’t even require you to have fluent Japanese!

Of course, if you do have a higher level of Japanese, you have more job opportunities. But don’t let that bring your hopes down. You still have options. Let’s take a look at the top 19 most popular jobs for foreigners working in Japan.

1. English Teacher

A red-haired woman teaches english.
Credit: ThisisEngineering RAEing on Unsplash

The easiest job to land in Japan for a foreigner is teaching. More specifically, teaching English. I think most of the foreigners I’ve met in Japan have been there, done that – including me. There are so many positions available throughout the country, and job postings pop up all year round. 

For this job position, you don’t need to know Japanese at all. Because you’re teaching English, your lessons are going to be fully in English. All you need is to have at least a bachelor’s degree. It would definitely help if you know a bit of Japanese, as well as prior teaching experience, but it’s not a requirement.

The downside to this is that it’s not the best-paying job. But hey, you’ll get a working visa and live in the country of your dreams. 

2. Interpreter/Translator

A speech being translated.
Credit: Aigars Mahinovs on Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re bilingual, you’ll find that it’s easy to get a translation job in Japan, especially if one of the languages you speak is Japanese. There’s a huge demand in the interpretation and translation industry. The gaming industry in Japan is huge, as we all know from our hours of playing video games and watching animation. Game companies require their works to be translated into other languages when they release it internationally. 

While there’s opportunities for full-time employment, you can also find part-time positions and contract work. This can include assisting businessmen when they travel for work and also translating written works.

3. IT Professional

Two women trouble shooting a computer.
Credit: Christina on Unsplash

After English-teaching, the IT professional job is the most common job in Japan. Positions like software developers and programmers are always in demand. The talent pool among Japanese locals for programmers is rather small. Companies are looking to international talents to fill these roles. 

You can most definitely find positions that require minimal to zero Japanese language ability. However, your options are multiplied when you can speak a bit of Japanese. 

4. Military Personnel 

A woman military person sitting on a doorstep.
Credit: Jessica Radanavong on Unsplash

If you’re American, you’re in luck. One of the most common ways to work in Japan is to be stationed at one of the US military bases in the country. Japan has the largest number of military personnel based here than in any other foreign country. Cities that have large bases like Okinawa have a large international population. Because of that, the area might be more English-friendly than other parts of the country. 

5. Engineer

A person looking at blueprints
Credit: ThisisEngineering RAEing on Unsplash

Engineering is significant in Japan, and engineer job positions are as common as IT professional job positions. Japan is known for its advanced engineering, from automobile to computer. If you’re skilled in any aspect of engineering, your chances of landing a job as an engineer in Japan is high. 

Japanese companies are looking to foreign talent for their expansion of their engineering industry. A lot of these job positions require no Japanese. In fact, you’ll be dealing with more foreign clients than local ones most of the time. 

6. Tourism Roles

a tour guide showing a crowd around..
Credit: Bernie Almanzar on Unsplash

The boom in tourism in Japan calls for demand in tourism related roles. It’s increasing so rapidly that the locals can’t keep up with it. Travel agencies and tourism-related businesses need foreigners to fill in some roles, especially when those roles involve dealing with non-Japanese clients. A common job is a tour guide. 

For these kinds of roles, you’d be required to know at least conversational Japanese so you can communicate fairly well with your company and clients. How much you can earn depends on your skills and experience, too. But the best part about tourism related roles is that you get to travel while on the job! 

7. Investment Banking

a laptop with stock measurements.
Credit: Tech Daily on Unsplash

Large investment banking companies are relocating their workers and also hiring foreign workers. Japan is an ideal place for these banks to locate. Because of this progression, you wouldn’t need Japanese language skills for this job. The banking industry also supports other jobs like IT professionals, too. 

8. Service Staff

people working behind computers
Credit: Arlington Research on Unsplash

An easy job to land if you have adequate Japanese language skills is service staff. If you’re on a Working Holiday visa or other valid visa like a spousal visa, this is an ideal opportunity. Look at the tourism industry – for example, hotels, resorts and restaurants in tourist destinations are more willing to hire foreign staff since bilinguality can be an asset to their business. 

9. Sales staff

a woman checking out at an ipad cash register.
Credit: Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

Similar to service staff, the sales staff job is also an easy job to land if you’re bilingual with Japanese. However, it’s not limited to that. Some local companies are trying to reach the international market, especially those in the automobile and banking industries. Because of that, they are opening up positions for foreign workers to assist in that reach. 

10. Modelling

Credit: Pooja Chaudhary on Unsplash

You might not think this is a possible job for most of the world, but in Japan, it’s rather easy. Modelling is more often taken as a part time or freelance job because of its instability, but it’s a job that’s extremely common and popular. Japanese companies are using non-Japanese models more and more to promote their business, so it’s in high demand right now.

The pay depends on the job, and it also depends on the frequency of jobs you get a month. Modelling agencies might provide you with a valid working visa if you’re working as a model full-time. Tokyo, especially, has a lot of modelling agencies that are foreigner-friendly. 

Which job is for you?

As you can see, there’s quite a range of job opportunities in Japan for foreigners. Everything from technical to artistic, there’s a position for you. You can browse your opportunities on job-hunting websites like Gaijinpot and Jobs in Japan, but a simple Google search does the trick, too. So what are you waiting for – get searching and applying! 

What to Do in Japan: Tips for Having Fun in Tokyo Safely During COVID-19

What to Do in Japan: Tips for Having Fun in Tokyo Safely During COVID-19

We’re living in a strange, strange time. The new decade started off with a global pandemic. Even after a year into it, we’re still working at home, wearing masks and sanitising our hands every other second. The usual sources of entertainment are gone, and we’re left wondering what we can do to keep ourselves entertained.

A crowded street lined with merchant stalls in Tokyo, Japan.
A crowded street lined with merchant stalls in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan was always coming up with another event every other weekend, pre-COVID. Tokyo, especially, is a city that feeds off the night. You might think it’s not possible to enjoy the country without them. But I have some news for you. Tokyo is just as entertaining without the massive crowds. It’s a city that has it all. In fact, it’s the perfect time to get a new perspective of this busy city.

Take a look at the 5 things you can do to have fun safely in Tokyo during COVID-19, both indoor and outdoor activities.

1. Binge watch Japanese TV shows & movies

Anime cat
Anime cats need to eat too.

What better way to stay safe during the pandemic than to stay at home? Even cuddled up on your sofa, you can enjoy the city by binge watching some programs filmed and inspired by it. Take your pick from Japanese drama, movie and anime (アニメ). Your days are going to be filled in no time!

Don’t worry if you think you’re missing out on Japanese culture. You’re getting plenty from these Japan-made entertainment. Even if your Japanese isn’t 100% yet, there are so many platforms online that offer English subtitles. They’ve got you covered.

Especially anime, if you haven’t gotten into it yet, why haven’t you? This genre of animation is unique to Japan. People from all around the world travel to this island nation after being hooked on anime. There’s thousands of anime in your favourite genre — any genre, really.

2. Pick up simple cooking of Japanese cuisine 

Rolling sushi is fun!
Rolling sushi is fun!

Everyone loves food. Nothing can beat a good dish, except for a home-made one. Pick up cooking — why not, right? You have all the time in the world, and it’s a skill that’ll benefit you for life. I suggest picking up some Japanese cooking skills when you’re in the country. Where else is better?

You won’t feel like you’ve missed out much of the local food in Tokyo. You’ll get authentic local ingredients from the neighbourhood supermarket. Some Japanese restaurants do that, too!

The easiest thing you could start off with is making sushi. Get a sushi rolling mat from any 100yen shop, rice, seaweed wrappers and fillings of your choosing. Then, get creative! Experiment to your heart’s content.

The next thing you could try is ramen or udon. It’s the broth that’s the key to these dishes. Look up broth recipes online and try a few until you’re content with your ramen dish!

Even before COVID-19, I’ve been making takoyaki at home, and they taste just as delicious. Just get yourself a takoyaki machine and you’re all set.

3. Stroll in the less populated parks (and areas)

I get that it can get unbearable when you’re stuck at home all day every day. So go out and get some fresh air. Not only Tokyo but the whole of Japan is full of green parks and wide open spaces. Take a stroll in your nearby park or just around the area. A bit of nature is always good for the mind and soul.

Try to avoid busy areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku. Even during the pandemic, these areas can still be jam-packed. Play your part by not contributing to the crowd and staying safe.

4. Eat out at smaller eateries

Ramen bar
Ramen is a national delicacy! Make sure to socially distance!

I love cooking, but even I find it a chore if I have to do it every day, especially on days I just want to rest. It’s always nice to have the convenience of dropping by a restaurant for a meal occasionally.

You can still practice social distancing when dining at a restaurant. Pick restaurants that aren’t usually crowded. The best thing you can do is dining at your local ramen shop. Not only are you avoiding crowded areas but you’re also supporting small businesses that might be struggling during this time.

5. Get a bicycle 

Woman on a bike riding past Mt. Fuji.

Some of us still have to commute to school or work. Usually, the train is the ideal choice for commute. But Japan trains are known to be extremely packed during peak hours in the morning and evening. It’s the worst time to be packed like sardines right now. Avoid those kind of crowds and get a bicycle to commute. It’s the best way to practice social distancing in public.

Your bicycle is not only useful for work but also for errands like going to the grocery store and also for exercise. You can make the most out of your bicycle. Those who don’t need to commute to work can use the bicycle for a leisurely cycle in the park. There are a lot of cyclists in Japan, so you’re not going to be alone!

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected everyone. Our personal lives and professional lives took a hit. But we can’t always be down in the dumps. Since this is the new norm, we have to make the most out of it. Start with theses 5 activities to get you back in the positive attitude!

Even after a year into the pandemic and with the vaccines rolling out, we have to stay vigilant. Stay safe while having fun, everyone!

Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Working is a chore. Working in a foreign country like Japan sounds exciting. I bet every foreigner who’s ever worked in Japan thought that at first. What they’re thinking now is slightly different…

There’s a fantasy of working life in Japan, and it’s quite the opposite of the reality. I’m not trying to scare you away from finding a job here. But it’s best to know a few things before you commit a few years to a new job in a foreign country.

In this article, we’re going to look at 3 fantasies in comparison with their realities. 

man drinking starbucks in front of a computer

Fantasy: After-work fun

Who doesn’t like a couple of drinks after work? A normal job takes up five days a week, leaving weekends and weekday evenings for leisure. You’ve got to make the most of your free time out of work. Especially if you’re thinking about working in a city like Tokyo, you might be expecting a couple of pints of beer after a long day of hard work.

There is some truth in that. Going for rounds of drinks with colleagues is actually part of the work culture here. It’s a way to bond with your coworkers. When you build stronger relationships, Japanese people believe that the workflow will be more effective. 

If your boss joins you at the after-work drinking as well, that’s when it gets even more fun. That means that the boss will pay. Free drinks for all! 

Reality: Overtime work

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to drink every night. In fact, you might not even be able to do much at night, other than sleeping. The harsh reality is that Japan has a very tough working culture. Everyone basically works overtime. Staying overtime is sometimes required, even though it’s not stated in any contract or written document. It’s an unspoken rule. You’d have to ‘read the air’ to find out. 

Depending on your company, you might not even get paid for the overtime hours (so check before signing any contracts).

In Japanese work etiquette, you don’t leave before the boss. If the boss decides to stay till 10PM, everyone else is expected to stay till 10:30PM. That’s just how it is. Let’s hope your boss doesn’t like overtime as much!

However, I’ve heard from some friends who are not required to work overtime and it’s fine with their company. So it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

People with umbrellas leaving a building

Fantasy: Individualism

If you’ve seen or heard about Japan, you might’ve heard about their crazy fashion and perspective. Tokyo’s Harajuku neighbourhood is an outlet for the locals to express themselves and their ideas any way they like. No judgement whatsoever.

And from my own experience, this expressiveness and individualism can go beyond the neighbourhood. You see locals going out of the box in other cities, too. Many people travel to Japan to witness this unique culture for themselves. Some want the opportunity to spread their wings as well.

To be honest, it was one of my reasons for going to Japan, too. I needed to stretch my legs a bit. I wanted to explore my individuality. 

Reality: Uniformity

While you can definitely explore it during your free time, it’s not at all like that at work. The work life in Japan, and generally the cultural norm, is uniformity. When it comes to dressing, you have to look like everyone else. The dress code has to be followed. 

And it doesn’t just stop at appearance. It includes other aspects of work life. There are ways of doing things in terms of how you speak, act and react in the office. The work etiquette has a set of rules in its system, and it has to be abided by.

My personal experience with working for a Japanese company wasn’t at all like that, though. I had a bit more freedom when it comes to what I wear and how I speak. At the end of the day, it really depends on how traditional or modern the company you’re with is.

People going up on an escalator

Fantasy: Culture enriching

Moving to a new country is exciting. You’re going to be in a different environment. Everything is new. You’re going to be immersed in a foreign culture. It’s going to be like one long vacation.

On my days off where I go on day trips and sightseeing spots, the culturally enriching factor kicks in. There’s always something new to discover about Japan and its culture. One part of the country can have various cultural facts compared to another. Take Osaka and Tokyo, for example. The two are so similar, yet dramatically different in so many ways. 

Reality: Culture shock

After the holiday mood fades away, you’ll soon realise that everyday life involves stress and mundane routines. Even in a different country, you can’t avoid that. When you work in Japan, you’ll also discover aspects about the Japanese working culture – both good and bad. 

While in some countries, you don’t have to keep up with formalities in the office. When you work in Japan, they’re very strict on that. It also comes hand in hand with hierarchy. Yup, there’s work hierarchy culture here.

And it doesn’t mean age. Someone five years younger than you can have a higher status. Someone who enters the company later than you can be your boss. Regardless, you’ll have to speak to them like how you would an elderly: with respect and keigo (敬語).

Working Life in Japan

Expect big changes when you move your life to Japan, especially if you’re planning to work here. Even with these three comparisons, working life in Japan is not all bad. There are perks and advantages. And not all companies are going to be the same. At the end of the day, you’re going to experience things you’ll never be able to back in your own country. So take a leap of faith and start applying!

Japanese Summer — How Long, How Hot & How to Survive!

Japanese Summer — How Long, How Hot & How to Survive!

We’re almost in the middle of the year, which means that the weather’s going to warm up. Whether it’s to have a dip in the ocean or lie on the soft sand, summer’s greatly anticipated. Japan’s summer, though, is no joke. Not only is it packed with events and festivals like neighbourhood matsuri (祭り) and music shows, but it’s the peak of heat and humidity.

You hear a lot of people talk about Japanese summer and how hot it can get here. How hot are we talking about? I’m telling you, it really is, coming from a girl who grew up on a tropical island.

So before you get packing for your next Japanese summer trip, here are some things you need to know.

People at a summer street festival in Japan.

Image Credit: Kentaro Toma
Natsu (夏) in Japan is something everyone should be talking about. I personally have never experienced humidity like this. And like I said, I grew up in tropical Singapore, so I didn’t think anything could be worse than that.
 

Japanese summer starts around June and lasts all the way till August. It’s roughly three months, but it can vary depending on exactly which part of Japan you’re in. There’s also global warming, so summer can start as early as late May and last as long as mid-September.

If you find yourself in the southernmost part of Japan, like the Kansai region and Okinawa, you’re going to get a longer summer. Don’t forget the humidity as well. The Kanto region, where the capital city Tokyo is, is not too far off the heat and humidity levels, too. However, if you’re up north in Hokkaido, you not only get a shorter summer but also the cool and not-so-humid weather. That’s why lots of locals travel up north during this time!
If you’re wondering where you should spend the summer in Japan, Tokyo’s your best bet. Here is where you get all the great festivities and events.
Don’t worry if you’re early for Japanese summer. Late May and early June are the best times for flower viewing. Hydrangeas bloom everywhere, along with some other summer florals. Kamakura’s Meigetsuin Temple is famous for its blue hydrangea garden.
Be prepared with umbrellas, though. The start of summer in Japan is also the start of the rainy season (tsuyu, 梅雨). You might even get a typhoon (taifu, 台風) or two. The rainy season can be a week of non-stop rain and strong winds, usually at the end of June to the start of July. You might want to avoid these dates if you’re not a fan of the rain.

Summer Temperature in Japan

Large crowd at a summer festival at a shrine in Japan.

Image Credit: Julie Fader

The temperature in Japan during the summer can fluctuate. One day it can be a great summer’s day, and the next it can be as unbearable as it can get. Some of my Japanese friends have noted that summer temperature in recent years has been particularly high. We’re advised to take precautions so as to not get heatstroke.

June’s weather is comfortable. You’ll get a cooling 22ºC in the afternoons and it drops to about 18ºC in the evening. Since it’s also approaching the rainy season, you can expect a few rainy days. Pack an umbrella!
It warms up in July after the rainy season. You get 22ºC evenings and warm and humid 28ºC afternoons.

Nothing beats August. It’s the hottest month of the year. 31ºC afternoons are conservative. It can go as hot as 35ºC for a whole week or two. Sunscreen and a bottle of cold water are going to be your best friends.

Summer Humidity in Japan 

Japanese Lanterns

Image Credit: Atul Vinayak

Sure, you can gauge the heat in Japan from the temperature, but it’s the humidity that gets you. You see everyone’s dressing going from chic to casual in a matter of days.

Some say it gets humid in June, but I say it’s already slightly humid in late May. June’s humidity level is at an average of 75%. The previous month’s humidity levels are 60%-65% on average. That’s quite a big jump from spring to summer.
July is looking at 79% humidity. It’s especially humid after the rainy season. August’s humidity level drops to 73% as it gets closer to autumn, but combine that with the hot temperature and you get the hottest month of the year. Don’t avoid August, though. It’s the month of festivities and events. Just pack a few caps and sunglasses.

Now you know. Japanese summer can get not only pretty hot but humid as well. What do you think, will you still be visiting the country during the summer? The Japanese festivities are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s a lose-some-win-some situation, I might say. Don’t get scared off by the Japanese heat!

What Is The Japan Rail Pass & Why Is It Awesome?

What Is The Japan Rail Pass & Why Is It Awesome?

For those looking to explore as much of Japan as possible, the country’s efficient and extensive rail network can’t be beat. Traveling around Japan by train is the perfect way for visitors to quickly and comfortably see the different sides of the country. However, the cost of lots of train travel really starts to add up in a country like Japan.

The good news is that there is a way to take as many trains as you like while in Japan without blowing up your budget. Rather than purchase tickets for each and every journey, a Japan Rail Pass allows passengers to travel as much as they like within the duration of their pass.

The Japan rail pas pamphlet and a mobile site of the JR Pass.
Travel freedom at it’s finest!

Introducing the Japan Rail Pass

With 7-day, 14-day and 21-day passes available to tourists, JR Passes can not only save people money but also give them the freedom to take train trips whenever the mood strikes. This one pass gives passengers access to train services all over Japan, ranging from local and regional trains to the country’s iconic shinkansen.

The Japan Rail Pass can be the key to unlocking everything Japan has to offer for tourists and may well be the second-best decision you make, after deciding to come in the first place.

A Shinkansen or a "bullet train."
A Shinkansen or a “bullet train.”

What Does the Japan Rail Pass Include?

To really appreciate the value of traveling with the Japan Rail Pass, it’s important that you understand what it covers. The last thing you want, now or later, is confusion about what is included by the pass.

It’s crucial straight away to make it clear that the JR Pass does not cover all train travel in Japan. Instead, the pass allows passengers unlimited travel on most high-speed, limited express, express, rapid, and local train services operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group. This means that for the duration of your rail pass, you can travel as much as you want on eligible train services around Japan, including Japan’s famous bullet trains known as shinkansen

Unfortunately, there are a few rare exceptions to the rail pass that are worth being aware of. The most important are the Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen services, which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu shinkansen lines. While this may seem inconvenient, there are other shinkansen services on these routes that are covered under the JR Pass, so it shouldn’t really affect your travels.

Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay
Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay!

On the other hand, there’s also a nice assortment of public transport services included in the JR Pass beyond the many regular JR train services. Many of these inclusions are specifically useful for tourists, such as the Narita Express between Narita Airport and Tokyo, the Tokyo Monorail between Haneda Airport and Tokyo, the Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay, and the extremely useful Yamanote loop line around Tokyo.

Who Can Use the Pass?

Because the Japan Rail Pass is such a useful and convenient option for traveling by train, it comes with quite strict restrictions on who can use it. The rail pass was designed to be mainly used by international tourists and the eligibility requirements reflect that. Only non-Japanese nationals on short tourism visits or Japanese nationals who meet specific conditions are able to purchase and use this rail pass.

While you can read up on the detailed eligibility requirements, the main one for tourists is that they enter the country on a single-entry temporary sightseeing visitor visa of 15 or 90 days duration.

The JR Ticket Office in the airport.
The place to get your pass!

Planning Your Rail Pass Trip

Now that you understand what the Japan Rail Pass covers and whether you can use it, it’s time to see whether it’s right for your trip. Every trip to Japan is different, so you need to check whether the rail pass makes sense for what you have planned.

One essential tool for deciding to get a rail pass is the JR Pass Fare Calculator. This invaluable resource allows you to input your travel plans, see whether a rail pass would work out cheaper than buying individual tickets and if so how much it could save you. We’re not talking about small savings potentially either; the cost of a round trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto is only marginally cheaper than a 7-day Japan Rail Pass.

man seeing mt. fuji out a shinkansen window.
This could be you!

Another vital resource you’ll want to consult when considering a rail pass is the JR Pass Map. This fantastic interactive map lets you see the entire JR railway network across the country, allowing you to visually see where the JR Pass can take you. But the map doesn’t just highlight JR lines and the shinkansen routes, it also helps you identify networks like private railways, trams and ropeways that won’t be covered.

How to Order a JR Pass

Since a Japan Rail Pass works differently to regular train tickets, the process for getting it is slightly different. In fact, it’s best if it actually begins before you even leave for Japan. While it is possible to buy a JR Pass in Japan, it’s actually cheaper if you buy it through an authorised vendor before you leave.

Train station master in Japan.
Making sure everything on your trip runs as smooth as the trains in Japan!

Once your pass is purchased, you will receive a slip of paper in the mail called an “Exchange Order”. Keep this order somewhere safe, as you will need to bring it with you to Japan to get your pass. Upon arriving in Japan, visit an Exchange Office found at major airports or in large cities, with your Exchange Order and passport. Following some paperwork at the office you will receive your official Japan Rail Pass with its activation day declared on it. The activation day is the day that you tell the office you would like to begin using your pass. From that day onwards, you’ll be able to travel on the pass, showing it to attendants at the turnstiles within stations bearing the JR symbol.

Traveling in Japan with a Japan Rail Pass can be an excellent move if it lines up with your travel plans. Rail passes can not only save you money, but also provide you with the chance to freely explore this wonderful destination to your heart’s content.

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