Obon (お盆, おぼん) also known as Bon (盆, ぼん), is an annual Japanese festival taking place August 13th to 15th. The festival was originally celebrated during the “7th month” of to the lunar calendar. It is still celebrated in July in some regions, but August is now the official date. It is one of Japan’s three major holidays, along with New Year’s and Golden Week, and has been celebrated for over 500 years. Many people take this week to return home and visit family. This three-day celebration honors the spirits of our ancestors.
On the first day of Obon, people go out to visit the graves of loved ones. They take time to clean up the graves and leave offerings and paper lanterns (提灯, ちょちん). Lanterns are also lit and hung outside of homes as a way to guide the spirits back to them. This tradition of calling back ancestors is known asmukae-bon (迎え盆, むかえぼん). Some people even light small fires at the entrances of their homes to help guide the spirits. These fires are known as mukae-bi (迎え火, むかえび).
In preparation of their ancestors’ arrival, some households will create shōryō uma (精霊馬, しょうりょううま). A shōryō uma, or “spirit horse,” is made from a vegetable, usually an eggplant or cucumber, and wooden sticks to form a horse or cow. These creations are then placed on the family altar. They are meant to give the ancestors’ spirits a more comfortable way to travel from the afterlife.
The second day of Obon is dedicated to bon odori (盆踊り, ぼんおどり). This traditional dance has been in Japan for over 600 years. It is performed during Obon to show appreciation for the sacrifices our ancestors have made. Each region has its own dances and music. Typically, though, taiko drums are used and dancers in matching outfits (usually yukata) dance in synchronicity. The bon odori is held locally in public spaces such as parks, temples or shrines, and is celebrated as a festival. Visitors can enjoy the show, dance on the sidelines, and eat festival food.
On the third and final day of Obon, families use lanterns to help their ancestors return to their resting places. This tradition is known as okuri-bon (送り盆, おくりぼん). It has become popular in recent years to send lanterns down a body of water. This ritual consists of lighting a candle and placing it in a floating lantern called atoro nagashi (灯籠流し, とうろうながし). The lanterns are then placed in a nearby lake or river or even the ocean and sent afloat. This is believed to help the ancestors return to where they belong, and it makes for a breathtaking sight! Another mukae-bi fire is sometimes lit to close the ceremony.
In addition to these traditions, many festivals occur during the days of Obon. Typical matsuri events occur with games, entertainment, fireworks, and lots of food! These festivals happen throughout the country and vary by region. One of the most famous of these festivals is the one held in Tokushima in the Shikoku region. It is famous for the Awa Dance Festival held on the second day, when the bon odori, known here as awa odori, is performed. Another popular festival is Daimonji (大文字, だいもんじ), officially known as Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火, ごぜんのおくりび), in Kyoto. At the close of Obon, massive mukaebi fires are lit on the mountains outside the city. These fires are burned in the shapes of certain kanji, the most famous being 大.
Obon is a one of a kind celebration in Japan. It is a time for tradition and honoring those who have passed, but it is also a time for celebration and enjoyment. Since Obon is such a big holiday that draws large crowds, it is best to plan ahead if you will be in Japan during this time. Even so, it is entirely worth it to get to experience a beautiful and authentic Obon celebration!
Summer in Japan is known as matsuri season! Matsuri (まつり) are festivals that go on throughout Japan and celebrate a variety of things. While these festivals happen throughout the year, the majority of them occur during the summer months. These matsuri have dancing, games, and most importantly, food! Matsuri food is a beloved part of Japanese culture. Food is cooked and sold at matsuri from food stands known as yatai (屋台, やたい). The food available changes to fit the seasons, but here are some of Japan’s most famous matsuri treats!
Takoyaki (たこ焼き, たこやき)
Takoyaki is a staple of matsuri! Like many other festival foods, takoyaki originated in Osaka. It is created using a batter poured into a specially-made pan to help them get their iconic ball shape. Diced squid is added along with tempura crumbles, pickled ginger, and green onions. Once fried, they are drizzled with mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce, which is a mix of Worchester sauce and ketchup. They are then topped with dried seaweed known as aonori (青のり, あおのり) and dried bonito flakes known as katsuobushi (鰹節, かつおぶし). Takoyaki is usually served in a small tray and eaten with toothpicks or chopsticks.
Yakisoba (焼きそば, やきそば)
Yakisoba means “fried noodles” as 焼き means fried, and そば is a common buckwheat noodle. It is a stir-fried noodle dish with all ingredients cooked in the same pan. Classic yakisoba sauce is made with Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Common mix-ins include pork, onions and cabbage with aonori, and bonito flakes on top.
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, おこのみやき)
Okonomiyaki is another common festival food with origins in Osaka. It is a savory pancake made from a wheat-based batter with plenty of toppings and mix-ins. In the batter, the most common ingredients to add are meat or seafood and cabbage. On top, the pancake is drizzled with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, which is a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Toppings include aonori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger. Okonomiyaki are sometimes made into hashimaki (箸巻き, はしまき), which is an okonomiyaki wrapped around chopsticks. This version is most popular in the Kansai region. It makes eating okonomiyaki at a festival much easier!
Karaage (唐揚げ, かたあげ)
Karaage is Japanese fried chicken, which makes sense because 揚げ (あげ) means “deep fried.” The term karaage refers to any food that is coated and deep fried in oil, but it is most often assumed to mean chicken. The chicken is first marinated, usually in a mixture of soy sauce, sake, and ginger. It is then coated in potato starch or flour and deep fried. It is served in a cone or a cup with a toothpick for easy eating!
Dango (団子, だんご)
Dango is one of the most iconic Japanese treats! Dango are small Japanese dumplings that are made from rice flour which is rolled into balls, boiled, and placed on skewers. Some dango have a filling while others have toppings or sauces. The most common dango is the anko dango (あんこ団子, あんこだんご), which has a red bean paste filling. Another popular one is the mitarashi dango (みたらし団子, みたらしだんご), which consists of dango covered in a soy sauce glaze for a perfect balance of savory and sweet. One of the most iconic dango, however, is the hanami dango (花見だんご, はなみだんご), the green, white, and pink dango eaten during cherry blossom.
Choco Banana (チョコバナナ)
Choco Bananas are a simple but fun and delicious festival treat. They consist of a peeled banana skewered and covered in chocolate. These bananas can be simple or elaborate with toppings such as sprinkles and candies. Over the years, they have gotten more extravagant. It is now common to use white chocolate dyed in bright colors and decorate the bananas to look like little characters.
While originally a French food, crepes have become hugely popular in Japan. Crepes are extremely thin pancakes that are filled with an array of ingredients. In Japan, the sweet crepes are by far the most popular. Festivals or food carts sell them in cones for easy handling. Ice cream, Nutella and custard are used as fillings. They often include fruit, particularly bananas, strawberries, or kiwis. They can then be topped with whipped cream, chocolate, candy such as pocky, and more fruit. The possibilities are endless!
Ikayaki (いか焼き, いかやき)
Ikayaki is a classic festival and street food. It consists of a squid grilled and covered in soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Before grilling, the squid is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, miso, ginger, and sake. Like many festival foods, it is served on a skewer for easy handling.
Yakitori (焼き鳥, やきとり)
Yakitori is another classic festival food! It is made by skewering chicken, grilling it then coating it with a sauce or flavoring. The skewers also sometimes include thick slices of scallions interspersed throughout the chicken. Yakitori traditionally comes in two flavors, salt or tare sauce. Tare sauce, also known as yakitori tare (焼き鳥のタレ, やきとりタレ), is a glaze made from soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar.
Taiyaki (鯛焼き, たいやき)
Taiyaki is made from a pancake or waffle batter poured into a special mold to get its classic fish shape. These fish-shaped cakes have a sweet filling usually made from red bean paste, but can include other fillings such as chocolate or custard. Taiyaki has also been modified to a cone shape, so they can work as a waffle cone and be filled with ice cream!
Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり)
Kakigori is shaved ice flavored with syrup and condensed milk. This treat is served in a bowl and packed with a mound of towering shaved ice, which makes them an ideal treat during Japan’s hot and humid summers. The ice is similar to a snow cone, but with a fluffier, snow-like consistency. It is flavored with syrup, usually in a fruit flavor such as strawberry, melon, cherry, or even green tea. Condensed milk is poured on top to add extra sweetness. Sometimes toppings such as fruit or dango are then added on top.
Ramune is a classic sign of summer in Japan. It is a carbonated drink with a unique bottle neck that includes a glass marble. When the marble is pressed down on to open the bottle, it releases the pressure within the bottle and activates the carbonation. Ramune first came in a lemon-lime flavor and received its name from English word “lemonade.” Today, ramune comes in nearly 60 flavors!
Roasted Sweet Potato (焼き芋, やきいも)
Sweet potatoes are eaten as a common snack or street food in Japan. Sweet potatoes sold by street vendors or yatai are roasted and kept warm with hot stones. They are most commonly sold during the fall and winter festivals because they help keep you warm!
Yaki Tomorokoshi (焼きとうもろこし, やきともろこし)
Grilled corn is a summer classic around the world and Japan is no exception! Grilled corn is a common treat at summer festivals (夏祭り, なつまつり). Ears of sweet summer corn are shucked and grilled. They are then coated in a sauce made from soy sauce and/or miso.
じゃがバター comes from the fusion of じゃがいも (potato) and バター (butter). This self-explanatory name is used to refer to cooked potatoes with a helping of butter. It is a simple treat but is a comfort food to many. The plain potatoes are boiled or grilled, then split open and topped with a pad of butter. Some people choose to add toppings such as soy sauce or salt. These are especially popular during cherry blossom season.
Mizuame Candy and Fruit (水飴, みずあめ)
Mizuame translates to “water candy.” It is a syrup-like sweetener that is often used to coat fruit. Common fruits used are cherries, strawberries, and orange slices. The coated fruits are kept on ice to keep the mizuame from melting.
Classic treats we may see at a carnival are also available at matsuri! Cotton candy (わたあめ) is very popular at festivals, especially with kids. It can come in a bag or on a stick in multiple colors and fun shapes. Candy apples, known in Japan as りんご飴 (りんごあめ) are also very popular at festivals, especially in the summer.
Savory carnival-type foods are also available. This includes corn dogs (アメリカンドッグ –), which translates to “American dog.” Fries (フライドポテト) are also a classic! They come in a variety of styles, including tornado potatoes, which consist of a potato on a skewer cut to make a spiral shape.
Summer, known as 夏 (なつ), is filled with tradition and culture in Japan. As a country that has hot summers, Japan has learned to adapt. Summer has become a time of fun and festivities with many ways to beat the heat! Here are some common sights in Japan during the summer months!
Matsuri (まつり) is the Japanese word for festivals. While they do occur year round in Japan, summertime is festival season. Many of the country’s biggest festivals and celebrations occur during this time. Matsuri are famous for food, performances. Parades, fireworks, and games! Games including goldfish scooping, superball scooping, and yoyotsuri are common summer festival games.
Fireworks (花火, はなび)
Like many places around the world, Japan loves fireworks (花火, はなび) during the summer! Throughout the summer months, especially July and August, firework shows are common all around Japan. Some are put on just for fun while others are done to celebrate holidays and matsuri.
Cicadas (蝉, せみ)
When you hear cicadas in Japan, you know summer has started! When you are outside the noise of the big cities, you are more likely than not to hear cicadas singing. Cicadas (蝉, せみ) are insects that produce a high pitched buzzing sound. You will hear their singing during the daytime into dusk, and they fall silent by nighttime. The sound of cicadas buzzing in harmony is so noticeable and commonplace that it known as 蝉時雨 (せみしぐれ), shower of cicadas.
Furin (風鈴, ふうりん)
Furin (風鈴, ふうりん) are another sound of the summer! These are Japanese windchimes made from glass, paper, and string. A glass orb is hung on a string, usually with a paper tassel hanging from it. When the wind blows, the sting will tap against the edge of the glass and create a pleasant chime. Since Japan’s summers are so hot and humid, furin are a way for people to know a nice breeze has arrived. Furin can be seen all over Japan in the summer hanging from the eaves of homes and businesses.
Fans have a long and important history in Japan. The uchiwa (団扇,うちわ) is a non-folding fan that is used to cool off in the heat. These fans, which are traditionally made of bamboo and paper, are a common sight during the summer. They are popular souvenirs and gifts during this time of year. It is also common to see them used in dances at summer matsuri. The fans often have patterns, illustrations, and calligraphy on them. They are sometimes even used by businesses to advertise!
Sensu (扇子, せんす) fans are also used as a means to cool off. However, these fans are more often used in performances, at temples and shrines, and in other traditions. They are sometimes even used for protection!
Higasa (日傘, ひがさ)
Higasa (日傘, ひがさ) are parasols made to block the sun. These parasols are a type of wagasa (和傘, わがさ), a Japanese umbrella made from bamboo and washi paper. They are delicate and intricately made and come in a variety of patterns and colors available. Wagasa and higasa cannot be used in the rain due to being made of paper; typical plastic umbrellas are used for rainstorms. Wagasa are also used during performances, especially by geisha.
Shochu mimai (暑中見舞い, しょちゅみまい)
Shochu mimai (暑中見舞い, しょちゅみまい) are greeting cards sent during the summer months. They are sent throughout July, all the way until August 7th. August 7th was the first day of autumn on the lunar calendar. Any card sent after the 7th to the end of August is known as zansho mimai (残照見舞い, ざんしょうみまい), or late summer greeting. Shochu mimai are sent as a way to wish friends and loved ones well during the summertime. Because Japan’s summer is so hot, the risk of heatstroke and other related illnesses is more prevalent. Shochu mimai are a way to check in on loved ones and remind them to be safe.
Yukatas (浴衣, ゆかた)
Yukatas (浴衣, ゆかた) are the clothing of the summer. They are a lightweight version of the kimono, made from thin cotton to help beat the heat. Yukatas were originally used as bathrobes and are still worn around onsen. However, yukatas are most often worn at summer festivals. Western clothing has been more popular than traditional Japanese clothing since the mid-twentieth century. So, special occasions, such as festivals, are some of the only times when yukata are worn. Kimonos and yukatas are worn with wooden platform sandals known as geta (下駄, げた). Special socks known as tabi (足袋, たび) are worn with geta, but typically not when wearing a yukata in the summer.
Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり)
Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり) is an iconic summer snack in Japan. This treat consists of shaved ice and flavored syrup. The ice is light and fluffy, similar to the consistency of snow, and is piled high in its dish. Kakigori syrup comes in a variety of flavors, but fruit flavors like strawberry, melon, and cherry are most common. Green tea is also a popular flavor! Condensed milk is drizzled on top for added sweetness. Other toppings such as dango, fruit, and even ice cream, are also added.
Watermelon (西瓜, スイカ)
No summer in Japan is complete without watermelon! Watermelon (西瓜, スイカ) is huge in the summer since it is such a refreshing treat. Watermelon is eaten at parties, sold by vendors, or enjoyed at home. Japan loves watermelon so much, there was even been a game invented for it! Watermelon splitting, known as suikawari (スイカ割り, スイカわり), is a game with similar rules to the piñata. For each turn, the player is blindfolded and spun around. They are given a bat and must hit the watermelon, which is laid on the ground on a sheet. Whoever hits and cracks the watermelon first wins. The watermelon is then shared among the participants. This game is especially popular at the beach, at picnics, and other similar summer events.
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Marine Day (海の日, うみのひ) is a national Japanese holiday that occurs annually on the third Monday in July. The holiday is considered to be the unofficial end of the rainy season and the beginning of summer. It is a time to give thanks to the ocean and acknowledge the importance it has for the island nation. It is also known as Ocean Day or Sea Day.
The day was known as Marine Memorial Day until 1996, when the name was changed to Marine Day and it became a national holiday. The holiday was established in 1941 in memory of the return of Emperor Meiji to the port of Yokohama after his 1876 voyage. This voyage, which navigated around the Tōhoku region, sailed on a steamboat named the Meiji Maru. The ship is on display on the campus of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.
Marine Day is all about the ocean! Many people use this day to go to the nearest beach and relax, swim, snorkel, or do other water activities. Aquariums throughout the country use this day to host ocean-related events.
Another popular tradition on Marine Day is attending Tokyo’s Odaiba Lantern Festival. During this event, over 50,000 multi-colored paper lanterns are lined in rows along the beach in Tokyo’s Odaiba Seaside Park. As the sun sets, the candles inside the lanterns are lit. Guests can walk through the rows of lanterns and admire the view of Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge across the water. Other Marine Day festivals occur throughout the country. Firework displays are one of the most common ways to celebrate!
Marine Day is also a day to give back to the ocean. The ocean is a big part of Japan’s culture and has been a major factor in Japan’s economy. Because Japan is an island, it relies a lot on the ocean. A majority of its food comes from the ocean, and it is through the ocean that it can trade with other nations. So, to give back, many people participate in the act of purifying the waters. They do this by throwing balls of mud into the ocean. These mud balls are packed with effective microorganisms, which help to clean up the waters. This tradition is both an apology for ocean pollution and a show of gratitude for all the ocean does.
Overall, Marine Day is a day to relax, enjoy the summer, and think about the importance of the ocean. It is a time to show appreciation to the sea and give back for all it does. But most importantly, it is a celebration of the ocean and the life that it provides!
Tanabata (たなばた), also known as the Star Festival (星祭り, ほしまつり), is an annual festival held throughout Japan. The holiday is traditionally celebrated on the “seventh day of the seventh month.” However, this date can vary depending on the region and the use of the Gregorian calendar. Tanabata celebrations occur from July 7th through the beginning of August. The celebration began in China and came to Japan during the 8th century, but did not gain popularity until the Edo period (1603 and 1867).
The holiday is inspired by the Chinese myth known as “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.” In the story, Orihime (Weaving Princess), wove clothing along the bank of a heavenly river (the Milky Way). Orihime was sad because she worked so hard that she was never able to find her true love. Seeing this, her father, Tentei (King of the Sky), introduced her to Hikoboshi (Star Boy). Hikoboshi, a cowherd, lived and worked on the other side of the Milky Way river. They quickly fell in love. However, their love prevented Orihime from doing her duties and Hikoboshi lost track of his cattle. Orihime’s father grew angry at their carelessness, so he split the two lovers apart, one on each side of the Milky Way. Orihime begged her father to let them meet again, so her father relented. He allowed them to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. Yet, on that night, the lovers were unable to cross the river to reach one another. When a flock of magpies saw the separated lovers, they banded together to form a bridge across the Milky Way.
The legend says that if it rains on Tanabata, then the magpies cannot form a bridge and the lovers cannot meet. So, on this day, many wish for clear skies. The lovers in the story represent Altair and Vega, two of the brightest stars in the sky.
Tanabata focuses largely on celebrating the arts. People do this with plenty of decorations made from paper and string. One of the most iconic parts of Tanabata are the tanzaku (短冊, たんざく). Tanzaku are thin strips of paper that people write their wishes on. The paper strips are then hung from the boughs of bamboo trees. Tanzaku come in five colors to represent the five elements: blue or green (wood), red (fire), yellow (earth), white (metal), and black or purple (water).
Other paper decorations include 巾着 (きんちゃく), which are shaped into small purses and symbolize wealth; 神衣 (かみごろも), tiny kimonos for sewing skills; 投網 (とあみ), nets for good fishing and harvests; 折り鶴 (おりずる), chains of paper cranes for health and longevity; and くずかご, trash bags for cleanliness. Once the festivities end, it is common to send these wishes down a nearby river or set them on fire as a way to release them.
Another common sight during Tanabata are large streamers attached to bamboo poles or hung on strings. These streamers are known as 吹き流し (ふきながし).They are each topped with large paper balls known as a kusudama (薬玉, くすだま). Long strips of washi paper hang from the kusudama and can be several meters long! Together, these paper decorations make up the seven symbols of Tanabata.
Tanabata matsuri occur throughout Japan and each region has its own customs. Even so, typical festival customs, such as fireworks, food, and entertainment, are common. The biggest and most famous Tanabata festival is the Sendai Tanabata Festival. This festival takes place in Miyagi prefecture in the Tōhoku region. At the Sendai Tanabata festival, people celebrate with the seven symbolic paper decorations. These decorations can be found in other regions, but tanzaku are by far the most common sight on Tanabata!
We all love food, don’t we? I bet a lot of us are huge Japanese food lovers, as well! I assume we’re all also experts on the types of Japanese food out there, so that’s why this article isn’t about that at all. We’re actually here to look at the various types of Japanese eateries you should definitely give a try. Other than your standard ramen-ya (ラメン屋, ramen shop) and kaitenzushi (回転寿司, conveyor belt sushi), there are actually loads of other types of eateries. .
In our Season 4 Episode 3 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we guided you through 4 unique types of Japanese eateries you can find in Japan. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in this blog post as well.
Take note, and keep in mind to pop by these places when you’re travelling to Japan!
Izakaya, The Japanese-style Pub
The first on our list is the izakaya (居酒屋). These are traditional Japanese-style pubs that are the best place to go to if you’re looking for cheap drinks and snacks. They are essentially Japanese taverns and you can find one just about anywhere. Even the neighbourhood districts have a handful of their own local izakaya.
The name literally translates to “stay alcohol shop”, so traditionally, this was a place where you could just sit around and drink. Unlike some other places where they try to “turn tables” by rushing customers out, in an izakaya, they won’t ever do that. It’s literally in their name and the basic Japanese etiquette. You’re allowed to just chill and have a couple of beers.
The most common type of food that you usually get at an izakaya is yakitori (焼き鳥), which are meat skewers. And if I must say so myself, they go great with a beer or cocktail. But if you don’t fancy that, there are other side dishes like chips and a small portion of noodles.
Ryotei & Kappo
This next type of Japanese eatery is a lot more traditional than the previous: the ryotei (料亭) and kappo (割烹).
A ryotei (料亭) is typically a high-end restaurant where guests can savour washoku (和食, Japanese cuisine) in private tatami rooms. Some ryotei date back to the early 17th century! Every little detail in the room is taken into account, from architecture to the decoration. Back in the day, this type of restaurant was used for feudal lords to meet with trusted subordinates in private. Even now, businessmen and politicians would have banquets and hold meetings behind the ryotei’s closed doors.
Kappo (割烹) literally translates to “cutting and cooking”. At a kappo restaurant, you usually sit at a bar counter and can observe the chef’s preparation. You can make special requests for what dishes you want or go for the “omakase” (お任せ), which means you leave it up to the chef to decide.
There’s a level of exclusivity for some ryotei and kappo restaurants. Sometimes, you can’t walk in or make reservations. You have to be invited by someone who’s already an existing guest.
This next category is the cook-it-yourself type of restaurant. You can already guess what you do at this restaurant. Yup, you cook the food yourself. Some might not like the idea of it, because if they want to cook, they’ll do it at home. If they dine out, they want it served to them. But trust me on this when I say you would want to try this type of eatery when in Japan. Don’t you want to experience Japanese culture?
There are a few ones you should try. The first one is a yakiniku (焼肉) restaurant. Yakiniku is translated to “grilled meat”. Originally, it referred to western barbecue food. Later on, it moved on to refer to Korean food. Today, yakiniku refers to a style of cooking bite-sized meat and vegetables on griddles over a flame of wood charcoal. It’s now known as Japanese barbecue.
Another restaurant in the cook-it-yourself category is nabe (鍋), which means hot pot. It’s a broad category that consists of all types of hot pot dishes. Usually, nabemono is served during the colder seasons, but there are some chain restaurants offering it all year round. People sit around a table with a pot usually filled with soup and throw in whatever they like. Most of the time it’s meat, veggies and noodles. When it’s cooked, they scoop it out into their bowl.
There are so many types of nabemono (鍋物), but my favourite is shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ). This is thinly sliced meat and vegetables are boiled in a pot of soup, and then afterwards dipped in a dipping sauce before eating. It’s a must-try when you travel to Japan!
Last but not least on our list, we have family restaurants. These are just casual dining restaurants which cater to people of all ages, but specifically families with children, hence the name. The big-name ones include Japan are Gusto, Johnathans and Denny’s.
Family restaurants are usually inexpensive — a meal can range from 500 yen (USD5) to 2,000 yen (USD20). I have never spent more than 2,000 yen at a family restaurant in my years of living in Japan.
One of the best things about this type of eatery is that they’re pretty convenient to dine in, especially for foreigners since everything on the menu has pictures to accompany it or an English menu. You have everything from the typical Japanese dishes like curry rice and donburi (丼物, rice bowls) to Western dishes like pasta and hamburgers.
My favourite part of a family restaurant is the drink bar. Unfortunately, it’s not an alcoholic drink bar. They’re all non-alcoholic beverages including soft drinks, juices, coffee and tea. There is a range of alcoholic drinks, though. Some outlets have happy hour deals where beers go as cheap as 200 yen!
Here’s a recap of the new vocabulary words we used in the podcast episode:
Yakitori (焼き鳥) — meat skewers
Osusume (おすすめ) — recommendation
Kanpai (乾杯) — Cheers!
Washoku (和食) — Japanese cuisine
Omakase (お任せ) — I leave it up to the chef
Yakiniku (焼き肉) — grilled meat
Nabe or nabemono (鍋・鍋物) — hot pot dishes
Shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) — a type of hotpot dish
Youshoku (養食) — Western cuisine
dorinku bā (ドリンクバー) — drink bar
Eat Your Heart Away!
One of the best things about travelling is trying new things. Japanese culture has lots to offer, and eateries are part of them! I highly recommend trying them out when you find yourself in Japan soon! Check out the full episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast, as well as other similar topics, if you’re interested to know more about Japanese culture and language!
As the world slowly opens up again, we’re hoping Japan is going to open up its borders, too. In fact, there are rumours that we might be able to travel for leisure to the Land of the Rising Sun as soon as the end of the year!
So to get yourself prepared for your adventure to Japan, why not create a Japan travel bucket list?
I’m sure you’ve read tons of articles online about this. There’s the standard “visit these specific places” and “eat local food”, and the list goes on to more than 50 things to do! Boy, we don’t all have the time in the world to read or do that! So that’s not what we’re going to do in this article.
Instead, our Japan travel basic bucket list has only 4 activities! It’s the most basic of lists, but a really good one, if I do say so myself.
#1: Balance City & Nature
The first on your Japan bucket list is balancing city and nature. Most of us think of the bright lights and neon signs of Tokyo when thinking about travelling to Japan. But keep in mind that this island nation is huge! There’s literally so much more to Japan than the Shibuya Scramble and Asakusa’s Sensoji.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo is lovely and a city that will always have a place in my heart. But you should definitely spread out your time across the mainland rather than just one city.
Venture out to the rural areas and you’ll discover a whole other side of the country. You don’t even have to go so far. Even just a quick one to two-hour drive out of Tokyo to Yamanashi. You’d be surprised at the world of difference these two areas have.
If going from one end of the stick to another is too extreme for you, then pick the middle ground: a suburban area, like Kawasaki and Chiba. Alternatively, you could kill two birds with one stone and pop by the mountainous town of Hakone. This is just an hour’s train ride from Tokyo. You can not only venture out of the city zone but also experience local hot springs and the beautiful nature all year round.
2: Drown in Spirituality
The next thing on the bucket list you need to do in Japan is drowning yourself in spirituality. Scattered around the country are shrines and temples. Even with a walk down the street your accommodation is at, you can come across a few local ones.
During your time here, never stop visiting these holy grounds. If you’re visiting various cities, visit a few of them in each one. There are some uphills, making you work for the view. There are others with hidden caves where you can pray for a deep desire. There was one shrine that I went to in Fukuoka called Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine. It had a small cave but I had to really find it, though. It’s believed that if you make a wish in that cave, it’ll definitely come true. A friend of a friend wished to be married and the year after she went there, she actually did!
If you’re not sure whether the holy grounds you’re at is a temple or a shrine, look out for torii. This is a traditional Japanese gate that’s usually red. It marks the transition of mundane to sacred ground. If you see one before entering the grounds, then it’s a shrine.
3: Immerse in Culture
The third on our Japan travel bucket list is to immerse yourself in culture. Every city that you go to will be sure to have a museum. The Land of the Rising Sun has quite a story to tell, even about the times when it wasn’t known as Nippon. While you can read about them online, these museums have information that you can’t find anywhere else. There are also artefacts that you can see with your own very eyes.
There’s a variety of indoor and outdoor museums for you to discover. Some even have cafes for a short break in between your learning journey. If you go to outdoor ones, they might even have a foot bath!
I understand that not everyone’s interested in walking around staring at figures. If you’re not such a huge fan of history, then go to an art gallery instead. Japan is rich in art, from paintings to fashion. Take your pick of permanent and temporary exhibitions, featuring legendary local and international artists and designers.
4: Drink Your Hearts Out!
And last but definitely not least on our bucket list: drink your hearts out! While there are lots of local delicacies, not many talk about the drinking culture. Get your fill of all the alcoholic drinks this country has to offer. Different cities have local breweries as well, so you can go on a beer tasting trip around the nation!
If you’re short on time and can’t afford to hop from city to city, don’t worry, your local bar by the accommodation has you covered. There’s everything from the standard draft beer to cocktails. In fact, some places have nomihodai (飲み放題), an all-you-can-drink deal. This is where you can… drink all you want! For a certain amount of time, of course, and for a bargain price!
In our Season 4 Episode 1 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we have more fun facts and details of a Japan travel bucket list. In that episode, we introduced new vocabulary words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:
Toshi (都市) — city
Inaka (田舎) — countryside or rural
Kougai (郊外) — suburban
Shizen (自然) — nature
Jinja (神社) — shrine. Another way to call a shrine is jingu (神宮)
Otera (お寺) — temple
Taisha (退社) — grand shrine
Torii (鳥居) — the red gate
Omikuji (おみくじ) — fortune slip
Hakubutsukan (博物館) — museum
Bijutsukan (美術館) — art gallery
Sake (酒) — alcoholic drinks
Nihonshu (日本酒) — Japanese rice wine
Nama bēru (生ビール) — draft beer
Kokuteru (コクテール) — cocktail
Nomikai (飲み会) — drinking party
Nomihōdai (飲み放祭) — all-you-can-drink
Create Your Japan Travel Bucket List Now!
What did I tell ya? Our bucket list might be basic, but it’s still extensive. It’s going to get you doing the things you can only do in Japan. What are you excited to do first? Let us know!
Also, tune in to the Nihongo Master Podcast for more content like this, as well as fun and quick Japanese grammar lessons.
Summer is one of the most anticipated seasons worldwide. In Japan, as well, many look forward to the warmer weather. Summer in Japan is one of the most exciting times of the year.
One festival that kicks off the start of the summer season in Japan is the Sanja Matsuri, taking place in May. This takes place at the capital city Tokyo over a three-day period. Both locals and tourists alike clear up their schedule to attend this big occasion.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what exactly Sanja Matsuri is, how it came about and how you can celebrate it like a local!
What is Sanja Matsuri?
One of the biggest festivals in all of Japan takes place in Tokyo at the start of May. This festival is called the Sanja Festival (三社祭, Sanja Matsuri). This annual festival can be found in the Asakusa district and almost two million visit the neighborhood over the three days this festival is held.
The Sanja Matsuri is held to celebrate the three founders of Sensoji Temple, one of the oldest temples in the country. About a hundred portable shrines known as the mikoshi (神輿) are paraded around the 44 districts of the neighbourhood by participants that carry them on their shoulders. These shrines are believed to have Shinto deities placed in them and they’re brought around to spread luck and fortune to people and businesses. Out of the hundreds of shrines, there are three big ones, which belong to the Asakusa Shrine next to Sensoji.
The paraded mikoshi will be bounced up and down and thrown side to side. This motion is known as tamafuri (球ふり) and has been done for centuries. If it’s done at a festival, the locals believe they will be blessed in terms of great harvests and improved health.
Other than the parade of shrines, food and drinks stalls as well as entertainment stalls are set up on the streets. Music of Japanese drums and flutes are also performed to accompany this parade of shrines.
What the participants of the event wear
One of the highlights of this festival is the cool things that the participants wear. There are a few different mikoshi teams, and each team wears a different hanten (反転) coat. This is a short traditional coat that is thicker than a normal one. That’s because the participants have to carry the shrine on their shoulders.
Underneath the coat, they wear the fundoshi (褌). This is a traditional Japanese undergarment that adds support and comfort.
The outfit is topped off with a traditional tabi (たび). This is a special kind of boot. Put on a hachimaki (鉢巻) headband and they’re good to go.
When is Sanja Matsuri?
The Sanja Matsuri is usually held in the third weekend of the month for three days (Friday to Sunday).
In 2022, the Sanja Matsuri was held from May 21st to May 22nd. However, because of the pandemic, it was on a reduced scale with only the three mikoshi paraded around. Instead of three days, it was only two days this year.
History of Sanja Matsuri
The Sanja Matsuri is one of three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo. Some believe the festival started taking place in 1649. This was when the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu ordered the construction of Asakusa Shrine. Some others believe the celebration has been going on since 1312, but it was only every other year until 1649.
The shrine is dedicated to brothers Takenari and Hamanari Hinokuma, as well as their friend, Matsuchi Hajino. These three people, known as “Sanja-sama”, established the Sensoji Temple in 628.
How to Celebrate Sanja Matsuri
It’s okay if you missed the Sanja Matsuri in 2022, since the borders have yet to open fully. Not to fret, it’s the best time to prepare for the festival in 2023. So let’s take a look at what exactly goes down in the three days so we can learn how to celebrate the festival like a local!
Friday – Day 1
On Friday, the first day of the festival, the head priest of Asakusa Shrine performs a ritual to invite spirits of the Sanja-samba into the three big mikoshi. At 1PM, temple priests, city officials, geishas, musicians and dancers wear traditional costumes and walk through the streets of Asakusa.
Afterwards they head to the shrine for a brief Shinto ceremony. They pray and dancers perform the binzasaramai (びんざさらまい) dance that’s accompanied by traditional Japanese percussion instruments (びんざさら, binzasara).
Then, in the late afternoon, the giant mikoshi are paraded through the streets. This is the best time to get up close and personal with the mikoshi as the crowd won’t be as big on this day.
Saturday – Day 2
The second day of the festival kicks off at noon with about a hundred small mikoshi carried throughout the neighbourhood. These are neighbourhood mikoshi. Each mikoshi has their own team of about 60 people carrying it and cheering in unison to each other. People shout “wasshoi! Wasshoi!” to encourage the crowd and each other.
These mikoshi include small ones for children. Kids of all ages and sizes can participate in this. Even toddlers can play with the taiko drums that are mounted on a cart! If you’re going to the festival with kids, this can be an enjoyable and interactive experience for your family.
At the end of this day, the teams gather at Asakusa Shrine and end their day with drinks.
Sunday – Day 3
The last day starts in the morning at 6AM. At the shrine, the teams from the previous day gather and some get to carry the big three mikoshi. It’s very competitive among the teams for who gets to carry the mikoshi. Because of that, visitors aren’t allowed to observe this.
By 8AM, they depart the shrine and travel around Asakusa in separate routes and return back to the shrine in the evening at 6 or 7PM. Sometimes the remaining small mikoshi of the teams from the previous day will parade around as well.
Celebrate with food
One of the main highlights of this festival for many people is the food. This is available at stalls on the streets of the neighbourhood. You get your typical yakisoba (焼きそば, fried noodles) and yakitori (焼き鳥, meat skewers).
But you definitely can’t miss out on Asakusa-exclusive delicacies like kibi-dango Azuma (吉備団子あずま), known to date back over two centuries ago. This is made out of millet powder and sweet rice, then coated with soybean flour.
Let’s celebrate this Shinto event!
Doesn’t this festival sound like so much fun? Why don’t you plan your Japan trip next year to include attending this event?
If you like this kind of content, check out the Nihongo Master Podcast. We discuss fun and exciting facts about Japanese culture, as well as offer bite-sized grammar points!
In recent months, Tokyo has announced that it will begin recognizing same-sex relationships. This would allow same-sex couples hospital visitation and the ability to rent apartments together. Unfortunately, Japan is still not recognizing same-sex marriages. Homosexuality has never been illegal in Japan, except for a short period from 1872 and 1880. Still, it has never been known for its openness and acceptance of the LGBT community.
However, LGBT advocates have been working hard to spread awareness and bring about equality for all. Younger generations have been especially vocal about their support of the LGBT community. In recent years, it has been reported that the vast majority of Japanese citizens support legalizing same-sex marriage.
Like any country, Japan is not perfect. Being out and vocal is not common in Japan, but that is slowly beginning to change for the better. Large cities like Tokyo are becoming more accepting and open about sexuality and gender identity. Japan still has a long way to go, but they are moving in the right direction. LGBT communities and pride events can be found throughout the country in hopes of spreading awareness.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride
Tokyo Rainbow Pride, or 東京レインボープライド, is Japan’s biggest pride event. The event takes place annually on a weekend in late April. The three day long celebration attracts thousands of attendees, both in the LGBT community and supporters. The majority of the event is held at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. At the park, there are vendors, live entertainment, and plenty of guests decked out in pride colors.
A parade also takes place during the weekend. The route is approximately 3 kilometers long and goes through Shibuya and Harajuku. Attendees are welcome to walk along with the parade floats, wave flags, and hold signs.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride takes place during Pride Week, プライドウィーク. During this week, flags are flown throughout the city by participants. There are lectures and performances by members of the community, concerts, and more.
Pink Dot Okinawa
Pink Dot Okinawa, or ピンクドット沖縄 (おきなわ) began as a small celebration in Okinawa in 2013 and has grown exponentially in the following years. The event was inspired by an LGBT event by the same name in Singapore that began in 2009. On this day, usually in late June, thousands of attendees gather in Okinawa’s capital Naha and wear pink to support the LGBT community. Since Okinawa is a famous tourist destination, the creators of Pink Dot Okinawa hope that they are able to attract supporters from around the world. Shopping, food, and entertainment are put on by local and international sponsors for a day of happiness and pride!
Kansai Rainbow Fiesta
The Kansai Rainbow Fiesta, or レインボーフェスタ, takes place in Ogimachi Park in Osaka during a weekend in mid-October. The event has been going on for nearly two decades and has been growing ever since. Like Tokyo, Osaka is known for being a more open and inclusive area. It was even the first area in Japan to allow same-sex couples to foster children. The park fills with vendors selling food or offering LGBT-friendly services. There is also live entertainment, including music and a drag show. A parade follows the roads around the park and features floats and marchers. At the end of the festival, rainbow colored balloons are released into the air.
Sapporo Rainbow Pride
The Sapporo Rainbow Pride festival, known as さっぽろレインボープライド, takes place mid-September. It is located in Odori Park, which is famous for the Sapporo Snow Festival. Sapporo is small compared to metropolitan areas like Tokyo, but it is considered one of Japan’s most friendly cities for the LGBT community. During the festival, hundreds of attendees walk through the area of the park, release colorful balloons, hold signs, or wave flags. Many wear plain clothes but some take the opportunity to wear colorful outfits or costumes. In the evening, the park is illuminated in rainbow colors.
LGBT Film Festivals
Japan has multiple LGBT film festivals that take place throughout the year. These film festivals feature Japanese and international films with LGBT characters or themes. The biggest one is Rainbow Reel Tokyo, レインボーリール東京(とうきょう). Other festivals include the Aomori International LGBT Film Festival, the Asian Queer Film Festival, the Kansai Queer Film Festival, and the Ehime LGBT Film Festival.
Known also as Ni-chōme, or 二丁目, Shinjuku Ni-chōme is the most famous LGBT district in Japan. The ward’s history as an LGBT space began in the mid-twentieth century when it was a red light district. When sex work was made illegal, many people left the area and it was taken over by the LGBT community. The community now thrives due to the countless LGBT-friendly bars and clubs, many of which specialize in different LGBT subcultures. Most of these bars are very small and cater to groups of regular customers who may receive discounts. Ni-chōme is prominent in Japan’s LGBT history. It was the location of Tokyo’s first LGBT film festival, Japan’s first pride parade, and Japan’s first candlelight vigil for AIDS. It, of course, also has many pride parades and events throughout the year.
Dōyamachō, known as 堂山町 (どうやまちょう), is Osaka’s LGBT district. It is similar to Ni-chōme, but on a much smaller scale. The area has bars and clubs that cater to LGBT subcultures. It is also popular for its saunas. Many of the bars and clubs segregate by gender, so lesbian bars do not allow male guests and vice versa. Very few clubs in the area allow all genders. Some bars do not allow foreigners to keep the tight-knit community close and safe. Dōyamachō also hosts pride events throughout the year. These include the Kansai Rainbow Fiesta and PLus+, which spreads awareness about AIDS.
Now, don’t lie. We are all big fans of anime, am I right? I personally can’t resist one episode after the next after the next. And when I’m done with the series, I start a new one. I bet a lot of you guys are the same.
And the numbers don’t lie: Anime films and shows make up about 60% of animation-based media entertainment in the world! So it just goes to show that its popularity is more than just in Japan. It’s worldwide!
In this article, we have about 14 interesting and fun facts about anime that you might not know, but will definitely enjoy!
1. ‘Kimi no Na Wa’ (Your Name) is the third highest-grossing anime film of all time!
If you don’t already know, Kimi no Na Wa (the English title is Your Name) is a Japanese animated romantic fantasy film released in 2016. The story is about a high school boy in Tokyo who swapped bodies mysteriously with a high school girl in the countryside.
The movie was screened in major cinemas worldwide and was a huge success. In fact, it was one of the biggest successes of the anime industry. The film made over $355 million, breaking over numerous box office records. It comes in third after Spirited Away (2001) and Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train (2020).
2. The longest-running anime has more than 7,500 episodes
The longest-running anime ever is Sazae-san. It is about a mother named Sazae-san (big surprise) and her family. The series showcases everyday problems of everyday people, which is a little surprising that this is the genre for the longest-running anime.
This animated TV series has over 7,500 episodes that are 6 minutes each, with the first episode airing in October 1969. and holds a Guinness World Record for the longest-running animated TV series!
3. ‘Spirited Away’ is the first anime film to be nominated for an Academy Award, and won!
The 2001 Japanese animated film called Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi in Japanese) is one that all of us should already know. It’s a true legend. This film is about a ten year old girl who moved to a new neighbourhood. While doing so, she entered the world of the spirits. When her parents turned into pigs, she took a job at the neighbourhood’s bath house so she could free herself and her parents of the spirit world.
We can all agree that it’s a unique and interesting storyline. Even the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, which doesn’t often stray away from Pixar and Disney movies. In 2003, this Japanese animated film won the 75th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature.
A small fun fact: the director, Hayao Miyazaki, didn’t attend the ceremony because of his opposition to the Iraq war.
4. Characters in ‘Spirited Away’ have meaningful names
A lot of thought was put into the anime film Spirited Away. It was no wonder the anime won the award. One of the details that was very obviously thought about a lot were the names of the characters. A lot of them had symbolic meanings.
For example, the name ‘Kamaji’ means ‘old boiler man’. ‘Boh’ means ‘little boy’ or ‘son’. Zenobia means ‘money witch’. Even ‘Yubaba’ means ‘bathhouse witch’.
My favourite of them all is Chihiro, the main character, which has the meaning of ‘a thousand searches’.
5. Death Note is banned in China
Yes, you read the title right. One of the most popular anime, Death Note, is banned in China! China is not new to banning media for its citizens, and Death Note apparently falls under the category of anime with inappropriate material.
Death Note isn’t the only or first anime to be banned in China. Others include Highschool of the Dead, Attack on Titan and Psycho-Pass.
6. The ramen shop ‘Ichiraku’ in Naruto exists
Naruto is without a doubt one of the most popular anime in the world! If you’re a dedicated fan of this anime, you would know of Naruto’s favourite ramen shop called ‘Ichiraku’.
I’m here to tell you that this ramen shop exists! It’s real, guys. You can actually find it in Kyushu under the same name. It is located near the university Masashi Kishimoto, the author of the series, went to. Masashi was so in love with the ramen shop that he just had to include it in the series!
If you find yourself in Kyushu, be sure to drop by this ramen shop!
7. Naruto was supposed to be a chef!
When the creator Masashi Kishimoto was writing about Naruto, the character and not the series, he originally was training to be a chef. But he then scrapped the idea and just kept the name. He changed Naruto to be who we now know and love, a boy who can transform into a fox.
8. There’s a very good reason to the naming of the ‘Bleach’ anime
One of the top anime series ever is Bleach. Even those who don’t watch it know what it is and what it is about. But do we know exactly why the name of the anime is so?
The creator of Bleach, Tite Kubo, gave two reasons behind the naming of the series. The first reason is because bleach is used to remove stains on clothes and to whiten them. This is similar to how the soul reapers in the series cleanse or bleach their souls.
The second reason, which is the important one, is because it’s the name of a Nirvana album and it’s one of Kubos’ favourites.
9. 50 new colours were created for ‘Akira’
The 1988 anime film ‘Akira’ is one that goes down in the history books. The film is a huge technical accomplishment for the Japanese anime industry. For one, it has 2,212 shots and 160,000 single pictures, which is twice or thrice more than the average anime.
Another thing is that most of the scenes of the film were set for nighttime. Most animators avoid that and prefer day scenes because night scenes require high usages of colour. Even with that, it requires high precision for it to look pleasing. But Akira went against the conventional ways and used 327 colours in the movie. Out of them, 50 were exclusively created for the film!
10. The name ‘Pokemon’ comes from the English language
Did you know that the ever-famous ‘Pokemon’ franchise is named after an English word? In fact, it came from two English words: ‘pocket’ and ‘monster’.
Just a short fun fact for you.
11. Pokemon characters were named after fighters
Some of the Pokemon characters were named after fighters! In particular, they are Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Hiroyuki Ebihara and Tadashi Sawamura.
The characters Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee were inspired by Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee respectively. Even we can see that. On top of that, Hitmonchan’s alternate name, Ebiwalar, came from Ebihara. Hitmonlee’s name, Sawamular, obviously came from the world’s first kick-boxer Sawamura.
12. ‘Haikyuu’ was made to make volleyball popular
I’m not big on sports, but when I started watching Haikyuu, I picked up volleyball. I guess the anime did its job. Because that was what it first set out to do.
The creator, Haruichi Furudate, stated in an interview in 2014 that his goal was to make volleyball seem fun and cool. After the release of Haikyuu, there was an increase in enrolments of high school students in volleyball clubs!
13. Bakugo was supposed to be a good character
We love all the characters of My Hero Academia. Both the good and bad. But what if Katsuki Bakugo was a good character instead?
Originally, creator Kohei Horikoshi wanted the character to be a kind, gentle hero. However, he scrapped the idea and made the character the Bakugo we now know and love: arrogant and a little bit of a nightmare.
Which fun fact was the most interesting?
Did you enjoy these anime fun facts? Which ones were the most interesting for you? And which ones surprised you the most? I know when I was reading up on them, I was a little surprised at them all! Anyway, we’d love to hear from you! Commen down in the section below or hit us up on our social media platforms!