7 Japanese Manners Survival Tips

7 Japanese Manners Survival Tips

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

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

1. Learn the basics of the language

When going to a foreign country, it’s no guarantee that everyone can speak English. Don’t assume and learn the local language – or at least the basics of it. In Japan, the first language is Japanese. And while the people here learn English in school, not everyone can speak it. To make your trip go more smoothly and just for the sake of convenience, learn basic Japanese. Or what I would call, survival Japanese.

Pick up a cheap Japanese learning book and learn how to introduce yourself, how to order, how to ask questions, and how to ask for directions. Heck, you should subscribe to Nihongo Master right now. We have the best of the best materials to help you learn Japanese!

2. Be cautious of footwear

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

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

3. Take note of paying etiquette

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

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

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

4. Learn basic chopstick etiquette

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

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

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

5. Know the rules of street drinking and eating

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

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

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

6. Mind your volume level

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

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

7. If you don’t know, ask

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

You’re good to go to Japan!

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

10 Fascinating Facts About the Ancient Culture of Japan

10 Fascinating Facts About the Ancient Culture of Japan

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

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

1. Japan was closed to the world for 217 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. A woman wrote the first Japanese novel

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

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

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

4. Japan developed colour printing in 1765

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

5. An african samurai defended Japan

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

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

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

6. Robots already exists in the 1600s

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

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

7. Kabuki was invented by a woman

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

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

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

8. Japan was vegetarian

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

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

9. Japanese are both Shinto and Buddhist

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

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

10. Christianity was kept secret in ancient Japan

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

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

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

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

Why should you work in Japan? Here are 7 great reasons.

Why should you work in Japan? Here are 7 great reasons.

Working in Japan sounds like a dream come true for some of us. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. And I can tell you that it’s definitely an experience to remember! Japan has such a rich culture that affects every aspect of life here, which includes the work environment. There are just some things about the Japanese working culture that you can’t experience anywhere else in the world!

While there’s always pros and cons to everything, we’re going to focus on the pros here. In this article, there’s a list of 7 things why you should work in Japan! 

We actually have a whole season dedicated to the theme of “Working in Japan” in our podcast series, Season 6, so if you’re interested to know more about working life in Japan, check that out!

1. Job Security

The first reason you should work in Japan is job security. For full-time workers, once you get offered the job, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a long-term contract. It’s quite difficult for companies to fire employees without a clear reason. 

Plus, Japanese companies look to hire employees who will be able to work for them long-term. In fact, they will go to extreme lengths to not let go of their employees. Instead of cutting people off, companies here are known to shift employees around into different positions, implement hiring freezes or other similar ways to cut costs.

So don’t worry about getting sacked a few weeks into the job. You’re pretty much good for a few years.

2. Health Insurance

Depending on the country you come from, you might not have healthcare covered. That doesn’t happen in Japan, which is another plus point when you work in Japan. 

A lot of Japanese companies provide health insurance with your working contract. However, the amount covered by your insurance plan can vary. It depends on the type of policy your company provides. Some companies offer an insurance plan where you basically get check ups for free! The most common type of plan involves you paying your consultation for a very low price. You don’t have to worry about paying $300 on just a five minute consultation.

On top of that, Japanese companies often provide annual health checks for free. While you might have to endure being poked and prodded for a few hours, these regular checkups are pretty essential at catching diseases at early stages.

3. Allowance

One of the best things about working in Japan is that you don’t have to pay a single penny commuting to work. The company covers that as well! In Japan, it’s normal to commute almost an hour or more to work. Sometimes, that can rack up quite a bit of cost, especially if you’re taking a few different lines on the train.

An average commuting expense costs about ¥20,000 a month, but sometimes even more. You don’t have to worry about setting aside the sum of money from your paycheck, because your Japanese company will add that into your payslip, on top of your monthly salary!The best part is that this applies to both part-time and full-time positions.

You have the option to get a teikiken (定期券), which is a commuter pass. It’s a set price for a route from point A to point B for a month, but even if you alight anywhere in between, you still won’t get charged. Oftentimes you save between ¥5,000 to ¥9,000 a month!

4. Taxes

Oh boy, don’t we all hate taxes and doin them. Unless your job is an accountant, this can be quite a chore. In Japan, there are various types of taxes as well. It can all get quite confusing, too. But when you’re working in Japan, your company takes care of your taxes for you! Isn’t that a good enough reason to work in Japan?

Companies would spread the tax payments over the course of the year. This not only saves you time by not doing the paperwork yourself, but you’re also budgeting your finances better. You won’t have to pay a lump sum in April to cover tax charges. 

5. Customer Service Skill

Japan’s level of customer service is top notch. That’s all thank to the “omotenashi” (おもてなし) culture, which translates to the Japanese hospitality. When you work in Japan, you’ll be put through a ton of training and practice of the traditional style of service. And that’s not a bad thing. There’s a thing about Japanese hospitality that we can all learn from.

You’ll be able to notice what’s wrong without having to ask, not disagreeing directly while still standing your ground, and make your clients feel comfortable. I believe those things are the positive things you can take away from the omoteshi culture while working in Japan!

6. Clean and safe environment

As we briefly mentioned before, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. You wouldn’t have to worry about going home alone after dark or being followed. While these are situations that could happen in the country, Japan is one of the countries with the very low crime rates!

On top of that, it’s also extremely clean! You wouldn’t know how much an unclean environment affects your day-to-day mood until you’re in one that’s sparkling. Even though it’s hard to find a bin on the streets, you’ll be surprised how little litter you see on the floor!

7. Opportunity

Last but not least, another reason why you should work in Japan is the opportunity the country has to offer to foreign workers. Most positions are well-paid with perks and benefits. You have your visa settled for a few years. Sometimes, your accommodation is provided by the company you work for as well. 

Not to mention that when you commit to a Japanese company for a long time, it really bumps up your resume. You’re going to acquire so many various skills that will be able to make you stand out from the crowd of people in your industry.

Let’s work in Japan!

Are those reasons not good enough for you to job hunt for a position in Japan? Well, check out Season 6 of our podcast series! We discuss various aspects of working in Japan – the good, the bad and the in between. Head over there for more exclusive content! And happy job hunting! 

5 Thrilling Autumn Festivals in Japan you can’t miss!

5 Thrilling Autumn Festivals in Japan you can’t miss!

Everyone wants to see sakura (桜) during spring in Japan. Others anticipate the powdered yuki (雪, snow) during Japanese winter. Summer in Japan calls for beach and bikinis. Autumn’s left out of this hype.

Contrary to popular belief, aki (秋, autumn) is actually one of the most festive seasons in Japan! The foliage is reason enough to be roaming around the country sightseeing. Japanese tourists try to catch an autumn festival (祭り, matsuri) or two while they’re in a different town. But here’s the thing: there are too many festivals to choose from! So we’ve shortlisted 5 of the most thrilling ones for you to look out for. 

1. Tori no Ichi (Nationwide)

Credit: Yoshikazu TAKADA on Flickr Creative Commons

An aki matsuri (秋祭り, autumn festival) you don’t want to miss is Tori no Ichi. This translates to “Day of the Bird”. This festival can be dated back to the Edo period and is celebrated nationwide. The biggest celebration of this festival you can find is in Tokyo. But don’t worry, if you’re not in the city during that time, there are others in various cities. The exact date follows the lunar calendar and falls on the day of the rooster. In olden days, this day let farmers know to harvest and sell their goods. Generally, it’s either early November or late November, around the 8th and 9th or 20th and 21st.

2. Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu)

Credit: Johnathan Khoo on Flickr Creative Commons

Up in Gifu Prefecture, there’s the Takayama Autumn Festival. It’s one of the more famous ones. In a year, more than 100,000 guests from Japan and overseas travel to Takayama City just for this occasion. The celebration has been going on annually for more than 350 years. The main highlight of this festival is the floats. You’ll see rows of them parading down the street. Each float is based on a theme of Japanese culture (文化).

This festival usually happens in early October. If you miss out on this one, the Takayama Spring Festival happens in the middle of April. It’s just as thrilling and exciting.

3. Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)

Credit: Victorillen on Flickr Creative Commons

If you find yourself in the ancient capital city of Kyoto at the end of October, you’re right in time for the Kurama Fire Festival. This matsuri is all about fire (火, hi). It takes place not too far from the central city of Kyoto. It is in the mountains of Kurama, though, so bring your outdoor clothes!

Unlike the first two, this festival only starts after sunset. Those involved in the parade will be in costumes and carrying torches as they walk down the streets towards Yuki-jinja Shrine. This festival is like Obon, as it welcomes the spirits from the shrine to the village. It’s believed that the spirits can offer protection for the residents. Stay till the end for a huge bonfire!

4. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Fukushima)

Credit: Ed Blankestijn on Flickr Creative Commons

Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival is all about lanterns. Duh! This festival takes place in Fukushima at Nihonmatsu Shrine at the start of October. You’ll be able to witness more than 300 lanterns all lit up, surrounded by approximately 65,000 people! The lanterns are arranged on 7 different floats and the celebration begins after sunset. You’ll hear taiko drums and flute music accompanying the parade.

This matsuri honours the Hachiman and Kumano gods of Nihonmatsu Shrine. Locals believe that they these gods give power to the rice plants and harvesting season.

5. Supernatural Cat Festival (Tokyo)

Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

Last but not least, we circle back to central Japan, in Tokyo! Out of all the crazy festivals this city has, Bake Neko has to be the one we highlight. Supernatural Cat Festival falls on the 13th of October every year in Kagurazaka neighbourhood. It’s all about…neko (猫, cat)! You put on a cat costume, pay an entry fee of ¥500, and join the parade! If you don’t have a costume, the on-site makeup artist can transform you into one.

Bake Neko isn’t just a parade, although that’s the main attraction. There are performances and food and souvenir stalls for you to enjoy. Not your typical traditional Japanese festival, but it is uniquely Japan.

Get Festive!

There are all sorts of festivals happening in Japan all year round. Autumn festivals are abundant, but these five shouldn’t be missed! Whether it’s appreciating the gods or shape shifting into a feline, trust Japan to have a celebration for that.

Kūki wo Yomu: How to “read the room” in Japanese

Kūki wo Yomu: How to “read the room” in Japanese

When you’ve spent quite a bit of time in Japan, you soon realise that it’s easier to say no in Japan than in most Western countries. But here’s the catch: it’s much more difficult to ask for an explanation or reason. 

If someone asks you out for a drink in Japan, an indirect “I have something else to do today” is taken as a decline to the invitation and no reasoning is asked for, whereas in Western countries, people feel compelled to have a justifiable reason for declining. 

This is all linked to what sociologists call high context and low context culture — Japan is considered to be under the category of a high context culture, so a lot of the time, you don’t need to explain much because there’s an unspoken understanding between people. It all balls down to a unique Japanese custom called “Kūki wo yomu (空気を読む)”.

What exactly is it, why is it so important, and how do we begin practicing it? All these answers and more are just a scroll down away!

Kūki o Yomu: Reading the Air

Kūki wo yomu (空気を読む) translates to “reading the air”. It can be likened to the English phrase “reading between the lines”. You ought to be situationally aware and attentive to not only your own thoughts and feelings but also of the people around you — all without the need of expressing them aloud. It’s one of the most significant and fundamental aspects of Japan’s communication culture.

This Japanese custom is not only about social relations — it applies to business contexts as well. You’re expected to predict the consequences of actions and words when you’re interacting with other people, as well as realising your own social status. 

This ability to read the air is not a genetic predisposition or something taught in Japanese schools or by parents — it’s a social trait. You pick it up spontaneously as you go along in life, socialise with others, communicate and most importantly, observe. It’s in the nature of Japanese people to observe their elders and people around them, then mimicking what they see.

It’s an important skill to have in Japanese society — it’s easier for you to make friends, get into a university and get a job. You’ll be more well-liked and fit into the local community easier. 

Someone who’s not able to catch the real meaning of other people’s words is often called KY, an abbreviation of “kūki yomenai” to mean “one who can’t read the air”. If you’re unable to understand the environment you’re in, it can cost you — whether it’s ruining a relationship or blowing a huge business deal. 

Kūki o yomu” forces you to pay attention to signals people are putting out, more than usual, and to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. 

Indirectness in Japanese Communication

Reading the air is also present in other cultures, like “reading the room” or “knowing your audience”, but Japanese people are far more sensitive to this custom. 

There was a tweet that went viral in Japan back in 2019 about a businessman in Kyoto who met a potential client. The client complimented his watch, so the businessman started explaining the watch’s features. It took him a while to realise that the client didn’t care much about the watch, but more of the time it showed — he wanted the businessman to look at his watch to see the time and wrap up the conversation. 

That one situation can sum up the indirectness factor in Japanese communication.

There’s no such thing as a direct answer in Japan, or at least in my experience. You don’t really get a straight-up “no” from anyone, whether it’s a casual or business setting — the politeness within the culture forbids them to. A “maybe” or “it’s possible” is used instead. 

I’ll give you an example: I once asked someone if he could direct me to the nearest station, and his answer was “sore wa chotto…” (それはちょっと。。。) This directly translates to “that’s a bit…” but it actually holds the meaning of “that’s inconvenient for me” or “that’s a bit difficult for me to answer.” Basically, he was indirectly telling me no. The sentence was left hanging, but that’s the phrase often used in Japan — people assume you’re able to determine the rest of the sentence and read the situation.  

There’s a collectivist culture in Japan that is probably one of the reasons for this ambiguity. The society prefers conformity over individualism — to directly communicate is like going against this status quo. So they avoid unpleasant interactions and situations to maintain social harmony, and to do that, everyone has to acquire the skill of reading the air. 

Tatemae vs Honne

Tatemae (建前) is what one expresses in public and honne (本音) is what one truly feels. It links together with how Japanese communication is epitomised by implicitness and indirectness. People are socially obligated to respond according to tatemae, defined by social expectations and opinion, regardless if it contradicts their own honne.

That’s because importance is placed on demonstrating respect and saving face. If you deny a request directly by saying “no”, Japanese people believe that that’ll cause embarrassment and both the invitee and inviter will lose face. A “maybe” or “I’ll consider it” is the Japanese way of saying “no” — their indication of their honne.

“Hear One, Know Ten”

Something that’s linked closely to “kūki o yomu” is a concept called ichi ieba jū wo shiru” (一言えば十を知る). This translates to “hear one, know ten”. Subtlety is pretty key when it comes to Japanese communication, so sometimes, social cues like facial expressions and body language aren’t as physically evident.

Japanese people believe that people should be so in tune with each other that the verbal words make up only 10% while the non-verbal ones communicate the remaining 90% — hear one, know ten. Whether it’s a twitch of the mouth or a discreet raise of the eyebrow can be telltale signs of disapproval or reproach. 

If you decided to work in a Japanese company, be prepared to get as little guidelines as possible and barely any guidance or feedback — they expect you to already know by “reading the air”. And anyway, take brief communication as positive communication in the office. 

What about you, can you read the air? Is your skill as extensive as the Japanese people? Whether it’s by observing people around you or educating yourself with the media, Japan’s high context culture does give you some plus points, especially if you’re planning to live in Japan.

Let’s Purikura! All you want to know about Japanese Photo Booths!

Let’s Purikura! All you want to know about Japanese Photo Booths!

I don’t know about you but I’ve noticed how popular those photo booth stickers are at the moment. When I first came to Japan, I was surprised at how popular they are in Japan, too.

Introducing “purikura”, the Japanese word for that exact thing we’re talking about. Before TikTok dances and Instagram filters became huge on the streets, purikura was top on the vain game.

So what exactly is it? How did it come about? Where can I find them? How do I take a purikura picture? All your answers are just a scroll down away!

What is Purikura?

So, what is purikura (プリクラ)? This word is a short form of “purinto kurabu” (プリント倶楽部), which means “print club”. Print club refers to the photo booths that you see all around Japan. It’s incredibly popular – all the local youths are crazy about it.

It’s the perfect activity with friends or on a date. It’s also the perfect souvenir because it’s a unique Japan activity.

You might be thinking, “it’s just a picture in a photo booth.” True, but purikura is more than just that. Worldwide, we have those official photo booths for ID photos. Sometimes, at events, you get photo booths that print pictures in film roll style. In Japan, it can be done any time, anywhere. You can customise it however you like.

While it functions the same way of any other photo booth, it’s more like a photo shoot. After you’ve taken your 5 consecutive pictures, you get to edit them. Everything from stickers and fonts to filters and frames. You’re in control of how it’s going to look when it’s printed.

The History of Purikura

Purikura

So how did this fun activity come about? It all started in 1995 when the first ever print club machine was invented. The Tokyo-based game software company, Atlus, was the brains behind it. Originally, it was just a pose-and-print situation. You could only add frames around it.

Then comes other gaming companies like SEGA. They developed the print club machines to include so much more. This was also the time when the word “purikura” was tossed around.

In 1997, things really took off for the machines. An extremely popular Japanese band called SMAP featured purikura on local television. Amusement centers and arcades where they were found were filled with people getting their own purikura.

Nowadays, you get all sorts of purikura. Some machines have themes. I know people who prefer certain photo booths over others because they have better filters. 

Where to Find Purikura

Purikura

So you’re interested in taking some purikura of your own. Where do you go to get them? Where can you find them? The better question is, where can’t you find them? They’re quite literally everywhere. I don’t think you can go a day walking around any part of Japan without coming across a few purikura booths. 

Almost every arcade in Japan has a floor dedicated to purikura machines. If you’re in Shibuya, you’ll likely spot them on the first floor. Sometimes, they’re bunched up in an area. So if you cross the street, you’ll see another group of purikura booths!

If you just want your picture taken to mark the occasion, any purikura will do. But if you’re like me and some of my friends, you want the best purikura booth. Venture around to find the one that has filters and edits you like best.

Styles of purikura booths include Harajuku-style kawaii (かわいい), princess style or hime (姫) and natural beauty. Trust me, there are others that are way more dramatic. Some places even have preparation areas for you to get ready!

How To: Purikura

Tokyo2010_MG_5722-1  Purikura

It might be pretty straightforward for some people, but others might be intimidated by purikura if it’s their first time. Don’t worry, we got you covered. We’ll guide you through how to take purikura pictures! 

Step 1: Posing for the pictures

It’s simple, really. A lot of these purikura booths suggest pose options for you. All you have to do is follow them. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can go all out and pose any way you want.

There’s a timer for everything, so don’t take too long to pose. As soon as you walk in the booth, the timer begins. Usually you only have a couple of seconds before it flashes. Be quick!

You’ll usually have a green screen behind you so you can choose cute backdrops. I highly recommend to not wear anything close to the colour green.

Step 2: Edit the pictures

Don’t worry if you didn’t pose too well. You can edit yourself after the pictures have been taken. Remember when I said there’s a timer for everything? There’s a timer for editing, too. Don’t worry, it’s not a few seconds. It’s a few minutes.

But even then it’s not enough. There are so many ways to edit. You have to choose between hundreds of stickers, animal ears, time and day stamps, markers and borders. You’ll have all the privacy you need to edit behind the curtains, so don’t be shy to go crazy.

There’s really no one way to do it. That’s the best part about purikura editing.

Step 3: Print out the pictures

All that’s left to do is print. After the timer runs out, you get options on which layout you want your pictures to be printed in. Pick the one you like and wait a minute or two. It’ll be printed out and you’ll have your sticker pictures!

Usually, the booths print two copies. You can choose to cut it out and divide it among your friends or partner. If you join their rewards program, you can order a digital copy for free! This way, everyone has a version of the original.

Will you be trying purikura when you go to Japan? I have to admit that it’s one of my most favourite things to do in Japan. It’s cheap, fun and fast! On top of it all, you get to mark that special day with your friends or partner.

How to Bow: Degrees of Japanese Bowing

How to Bow: Degrees of Japanese Bowing

I don’t think I ever bowed before coming to Japan, but it’s such a huge thing in Japan. I mean, it’s one of the biggest aspects of the Japanese culture. Because there’s so much emphasis on respect, bowing is one of the main ways to convey that. 

Now, I bow practically every day, whether it’s a slight nod to the staff member or an apologetic one to a passerby. There are a few types of bows in Japanese culture and they’re used for various purposes. For travellers and those planning to live in Japan alike, it’s best to know what they are and understand the nuances behind them.

In this article, we’re going to look at what to note when it comes to bowing in Japanese culture, and the three types of bows you can encounter!

Bowing in Japan

Bowing, known as ojigi (お辞儀) in Japanese, is not only a Japanese body language but it’s a crucial part of Japanese etiquette. Regardless of the occasion, both formal and informal settings, you have to bow and prepare to be bowed to. Depending on the situation, bowing can represent a couple of different things – greetings, gratitude and apologies are just to name a few.

There are a couple of things you should note about bowing. The first of them all is that this simple ritual should not be rushed. You can’t just walk and bow – it’s not really something you can do on-the-go. It’s considered rude if you do that and it’s best to stop before bowing. 

When you do bow, be careful of your posture. A relaxed and casual one can be misunderstood as disrespectful or lack in interest. Try not to put more weight on one foot than the other or try to look forward at the person when you bow. Keep your arms in your pockets, behind your back, on your lap or with palms at the heart level together. Never have your arms hang lifelessly or crossed in front of your chest. Clenching of fists is also a strict no-no – you’re kind of telling the other person that you’re suppressing anger if you do that.

The last thing to note is that, when you are bowing, don’t talk. Conversation is not particularly acceptable when you bow. Surely, you can wait till your back is straightened up to continue your conversation.

As we briefly mentioned, there are three types of bowing and the varying degrees have different meanings. Let’s take a look at them.

3d rendering. black flat color business men take a bow as apologize level of Japanese culture concept.

15º Bow

A 15º bow, also known as eshaku (会釈), is when you’re slightly bowing. It’s kind of like a nod but rather than just doing with your head, you’re also moving your upper body. This kind of bowing translates to a casual greeting or salutation, and is used more informally than others like when you’re passing by someone at work or school as a casual greeting. 

Eshaku can sometimes be used as an apology, too. The whole idea of this type of bow is that it’s extremely casual. You don’t use this as a normal type of greeting bow. You do see this being used in formal and business settings, but it usually follows a proper greeting as repetition. 

To do this bow, you tilt forward of about 15º from your normal posture. I know we mentioned previously that it’s not okay to look at a person when you bow, but in eshaku, you maintain visual contact with the person you’re greeting. It’s better to have your hands together in front of you but it’s also fine if you don’t. 

30º Bow

This next type of bow requires you to tilt your upper body and head to a 30º angle. Also known as keirei (敬礼), this bow translates to a respectful salutation and is used in formal settings to greet, thank or apologise to someone. When you need to communicate with someone respectfully, like a client, customer or boss, this is a gesture of respect in Japanese body language.

Unlike the previous type of bow, you don’t look at the person you’re bowing to – you look at the floor. Your arms should be kept at the sides of your body, front or back of the body in a respectful manner of covering one hand over the other. Make sure your back is straight and you’re not just tilting your head. 

Keirei is used by staff members when they greet and bid farewell to customers at a shop or hotel. You’ll commonly see this type of bow when businessmen are thanking or apologising to their clients or higher-ups.

45º Bow

The most extreme bow of them all is the saikeirei (最敬礼): the 45º bow. On some occasions, it can be up to 60º! This type of bow is the most respectful salutation which can also be used to project deepest regrets in an apology. 

If you’ve done something extremely bad at work, quickly stand up straight and then tilt your upper body to a 45º angle while keeping your head down. Make sure your hands are at your sides when you do this. Saikeirei is a formal style of bowing you most often see and do in a business setting. 

I have to admit – I do see some people bow all the way down to a 90º angle. And a lot of the time, they’re on the phone on the streets and still bowing even though the other person couldn’t see them. They must be sincerely sorry for what they have done.

Bowing is such an important custom in Japan, and practicing it while in the country is the best way to understand this tradition. You’re not only visually showing your respect for the person you’re bowing to, but you’re also deepening your comprehension of this characteristic of the Japanese culture. So, the next time you messed up at work, go all out with the saiekeirei to your boss!

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.

Conversely, “you’re welcome” in Okinawan is “ぐぶりーさびたん” (guburii sabitan). It’s good to know both, just incase!

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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!

From Kyoto to Tokyo: the amazing story behind Japan’s changing capital city!

From Kyoto to Tokyo: the amazing story behind Japan’s changing capital city!

We know Tokyo as the capital city of Japan. The bright, neon-lit city is the first image that pops in our head at the mention of the country’s modern vibes. But at the mention of authentic Japan and Japanese culture, Kyoto is where we think of. These are the reputations of the two cities. But did you know, Tokyo wasn’t always the capital city? Back in the day, Kyoto was the one that held the title. So why was there a switch from Kyoto to Tokyo as the capital city of Japan? We have the answers you’re looking for.

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan

Kyoto wasn’t called Kyoto back in the day. Just like other Japanese cities, it had a few names. One of it was “Heian-kyo” (平安京). This translates to “metropolis of peace or seat” in Japanese. Another name for Kyoto was “Saikyo” (西京), which means Western capital.

Originally, Kyoto only consisted of the Imperial Palace and the areas surrounding it. But now, as we know it, it’s grown much bigger. Some believe that Kyoto’s architecture was designed to resemble Xi’an City during the Tang Dynasty. The grid-like streets and rectangular enclosures were hints of that.

Kyoto was the capital city of Japan for more than a millennium, after its inception in 794AD. It’s one of the oldest cities of Japan, after all, so it only made sense that leaders have settled down there and created history. In the 8th century, Emperor Kanmu was the one that decided Kyoto to be the capital. Rulers after him would have the city as the seat of the Imperial Court for centuries, until the 19th century. Kyoto was gradually losing its prominence as an administrate centre. A change was required.

How the oligarchy influenced the change

Now, we’re not going to delve deep into history. We’re going to just touch on it. The Tokugawa Shogunate, as we know, was the last feudal Japanese military government. They reigned from 1600 to 1969. In the early years, then-Edo now-Tokyo was the spot for their military government. The Tokugawa Shogunate became so powerful to the extent that the Emperor was below them.

The Meiji Restoration got back the Emperor’s position in politics and culture. In 1968, the Tokugawa Shogunate was no more. At the time, the ruling emperor was merely 15, so the power was given to the oligarchs. They decided to stay in Edo instead of going back to the then-capital city Kyoto because of its convenient location and easy access to the West for trade. Edo was given a new name: Tokyo, the “Eastern Capital”.

Edo, from village to castle town

Credit: Lilac and Honey on Flickr Creative Commons

The name “Edo” means “estuary”. It was originally a mere village during the Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333). The village’s location was perfect for the establishment of headquarters. It had access to busy lands and sea routes. When the Tokugawa Shogunate established in Edo, it was the beginning of Edo’s rapid growth. Edo Castle became their base, with moats and bridges surrounding it. By 1720s, Edo’s population drastically boomed and had a major economic growth.

Today’s Tokyo

And we skip to today. The emperor wasn’t the one that decided the change of capital city to Tokyo, but this incident marks a crucial time in Japan’s history. It was inevitable that Tokyo became the main area for trade due to its accessibility. From there, technology, Western clothing and architecture began to influence the city. Just like how Kyoto grew in size, so did Tokyo to include its surrounding regions.

Capital city: Kyoto or Tokyo?

Now, Kyoto is still known as the “Western Capital” and Tokyo as the “Eastern Capital”. The move of capital city to Tokyo affected Kyoto deeply, but now the city’s thriving with its own unique personality that contrasts that of Tokyo. Kyoto will always be a symbol of old Japan, and Tokyo’s a symbol of the country’s evolution and development. Kyoto will always be thought of as the heart of Japan for it’s storied and important history.