20 Popular Matsuri Foods

20 Popular Matsuri Foods

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.

Crepes (クレープ)

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 (ラムネ)

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.

Jagabata (じゃがバター)

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.

Carnival Classics

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.

Try These 4 Unique Eateries in Japan!

Try These 4 Unique Eateries in Japan!

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

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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

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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.

Cook-It-Yourself Eateries

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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!

Family Restaurants

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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!

Vocab Recap

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!

Top 4 Activities On Your Japan Travel Bucket List!

Top 4 Activities On Your Japan Travel Bucket List!

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  

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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

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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

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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!

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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!

Vocab Recap

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.

Rainy Season in Japanese Culture

Rainy Season in Japanese Culture

The rainy season is an annual occurrence throughout Japan. The dates of the rainy season vary throughout the country, but on average, it occurs from June to July. Subtropical places such as Okinawa have an early rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of June. Northern areas such as the Tōhoku region experience a late rainy season from mid-June to late July. This goes for Japan’s metropolitan areas such as Tokyo and Kyoto as well. Hokkaido does not experience the rainy season.

The Japanese term for the rainy season is 梅雨 (つゆ). This translates to “plum rain” as it coincides with the ripening of plum trees. And while rain is common during the rainy season, it is not a constant downpour. During the peak season, there is on average a 50% chance of rain each day. Even so, the skies are often overcast and the sun only makes an occasional appearance.

The biggest symbol of Japan’s rainy season is the hydrangea since its blooming season coincides with the rainy season. Hydrangea in Japanese is 紫陽花 (アジサイ). These puffy bushels of flowers grow on bushes and come in beautiful shades of pink, purple, and blue. Their vibrant colors help to liven up the cloudy days, so they have become a much beloved symbol of this time of year.

Another flower that symbolizes the rainy season is the iris! Iris is Japanese is 菖蒲 (アヤメ). Like hydrangeas, irises bloom during the rainy season and reach their peak in mid-June. Irises are a beloved flower in Japan and have a long history in the country. They can be found throughout Japan and come in many colors. People enjoy the tradition of flower viewing during the rainy season, and irises are easy to find! They can be found blooming in parks, at temples and shrines, and in fields. Irises are also sometimes used to flavor wagashi!

Teru teru bōzu are a famous symbol of the rainy season. Teru teru bōzu, written as 照る照る坊主 (てるてるぼうず), means “shine shine monk.” They are handmade dolls made with white cloth, tissue, or paper that are hung with string near a window. They are meant to be talismans that bring about good weather. This tradition came from China and was adopted by Japanese farmers in feudal Japan. They are still made today, usually by children, and are easy to make. Two pieces of cloth or paper are needed. One piece is crumpled into a ball and the other then covers it. String is tied around the ball to create a ghost-like figure, and a face is added. There is even a warabe uta (童歌, わらべうた), a Japanese nursery rhyme, about teru teru bōzu. It begins, “Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu, make tomorrow a sunny day…”

Fireflies enjoy humidity and moisture, so they come out in droves during June and July. Because of this, watching fireflies has become a common rainy season tradition, especially for children! The best time to see fireflies is during the evenings on days when it is no longer raining. Fireflies will shy away from light, so it is best to do it on nights when the moon is not out. Try not to use a flashlight or camera flash either! Fireflies are found throughout the country, and there are even festivals dedicated to them. These festivals include the Tsukiyono Firefly Village in Gunma and the Kugayama Firefly Festival in Tokyo. Some of the best spots to see fireflies in their natural habitat are Motosu Hotaru Park in Gifu, the Uchio Shrine in Hyōgo, and the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park in Hokkaido.

Once the rainy season has ended, Japan’s hot and humid summer rolls in. During this transition, it is common to begin to see–and hear–wind chimes. These wind chimes, known as furin (風鈴, ふりん) are a symbol of Japanese summer and the end of rainy season. These windchimes are made with a glass orb, a bell, and tanzaku (短冊, たんざく), a strip of colorful paper. They are then hung from the eaves of homes and buildings. When the wind blows, the furin chime, so the sound is associated with cool breezes in the summer heat. So, when you hear a furin chime, know that the rainy season is over and it’s time to grab your yukata and enjoy summertime in Japan!

Sanja Matsuri: What Is It and How to Celebrate?

Sanja Matsuri: What Is It and How to Celebrate?

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 

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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 

Image Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons

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! 

14 Fun Facts About Anime

14 Fun Facts About Anime

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!

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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!

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia 

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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’

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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!

What is Japanese Idol Culture?

What is Japanese Idol Culture?

Idol culture in Japan is a topic to discuss. In Season 3 Episode 12 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we dove into that. So what are idols? They’re like celebrities but on a whole other spectrum. 

It’s no denying that Japan’s music scene has been dominated by the likes of J-pop, Japanese popular music — everywhere you go in the country, you’ll see a banner promoting a girl group’s latest album or a boy group advert for a brand’s newest product. There’s literally no escaping this idol culture.

But what exactly is idol culture and how is it different from the rest of the world? Is it similar to K-pop and their synchronised dancing groups or is it more like the West where the musical and vocal aspects are put forth? And why are there some disagreements about this celebrity culture in Japan?

Idol Group History 

First and foremost, what are idols? The word aidoru (アイドル) is written in katakana and is a gairaigo (外来語, foreign loan word). You can already guess what language it borrowed the word from: the English word “idol”. While in English, the word has been used since the 1920s to refer to popular people. In Japan, the word only came into popularity in the 1960s. Initially, the term is used to refer to female performers manufactured into groups, but has now expanded to include male performers.

For comparison, the western parallel of Japanese idols are like Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls, but even then, it doesn’t fully comprehend the essence.

The most popular type of idol group consists of girls, but don’t underestimate the boy groups — in fact, the first ever idol group recruitment agency, Johnny & Associates which opened in 1962, is known for pumping out boy band after boy band, every single one of them extremely successful.

It was only in the 70s that idol culture took off; variety TV shows as well as magazines began advertising singing competitions — kind of like American Idol or X Factor. Tons of idols started their career this way, although those signed with recruitment agencies like Johnny’s had an edge over the rest — even till today.

And in the 80s, known as the Golden Age of Idols, numerous idol groups made their debut. Baradoru (バラドル, variety show idols) were increasing rapidly as these singing competitions became a mainstay on prime time TV. Idol groups rose and fell, but the whole industry gradually built up — in the 90s, 2000s, and up till now as we speak.

So to say that the idol concept is popular is quite the understatement — you won’t believe the number of Japanese idol groups there is in total. Even though Johnny’s Kinki Kids and Arashi debuted in the 90’s, they are still two of the most popular ones in the industry to this day. And if you don’t already know the most famous girl group in Japan just from the unlimited ads and posters on local streets, it’s AKB48.

So the concept of manufactured celebrity groups has been around for decades now, and it has taken quite a chunk of the Japanese music scene.

The Job of An Idol

If you’ve seen videos of these Japanese idols, you’ll know that their basic job is to sing and dance on stage. Technically, you’re right — that’s the general idea, but there’s more to it than just that. If they’re a chika aidoru (地下アイドル, underground idol), they’re going to have to put in way more work than the mainstream ones.

Basically, once they’re signed with an idol recruitment company, they don’t start singing and dancing straight away. They’re technically not even an idol yet. There’s a lot of training to do before debuting — like classes on how to behave and ways of replying, as well as lessons for singing and dancing. A couple of these newly signed talents get grouped together, which can be a hit or a miss. If you’ve ever had a group project with people you don’t like, you just suck it up for the next couple of weeks or so till the project’s over, right? Imagine having to suck it up for the rest of your career if there’s someone that you absolutely despise.

When they debut, not only do they have to sing and dance during performances but there’s also the job of marketing their new content. This can come in a few ways — the most common ones are making an appearance on reality TV shows and akushukai (握手会, handshake events).

During the event, no pictures, no hanging out, just a handshake. It’s like a meet- and-greet, only with about 10 to 15 seconds of greeting and then out you go. This kind of event pulls in the sales — usually buying one CD will give you a chance at a ticket for the event. Otaku, (オタク, which translates to geek or nerd but in this case refers to a particular level of devoted fans) would go all out just to raise their chances at meeting their favourite idols.

I’d say those are the easier aspects of the job — the hardest one is obeying dozens and dozens of rules. I think the exact rules vary for different recruitment companies, but one that’s mutual throughout is their strict policy on privacy. An idol’s image is the perfectly imperfect person — because they’re not prince charming or cinderella, the concept of normality makes them much more desirable for their fans. To protect this image, idols aren’t allowed to be seen publicly with a significant other or any similar types of scandals.

Problems & Future of Idol Groups

Even though the idol culture is continuously rising, there have been recurring problems in the idol culture. The biggest one is the case of assault and harassment — especially when it comes to female idols. It seems like it’s every other weekend that there’s a new news report about a female idol being stalked by their obsessed fans.

And that’s not even the worst part — because of this culture of manufacturing female talents and putting them into the public eye, there has been a worrying pattern of fan bases consisting largely of older men. Japan’s already having a tough time with this issue in general, and in my opinion, the idol culture’s not doing any good to resolve that.

Before we get too deep into that topic, the other problem the idol culture’s created is that the younger generation is given this idea that they can get out of school early to pursue an idol career. Apparently, this is a legitimate reason to be granted leave from schools. It’s quite surprising to hear that, especially when Japan’s quite known to value education pretty highly.

So, we’re here wondering, what is the future of idol groups? Will they be the same going forward, or will there be a change in the system to combat these rising problems? I hope for the sake and safety of the idols, something’s going to be done.

Vocab Recap

In the episode, we used some new Japanese words. Here’s a list for reference:

Aidoru (アイドル) — idol

Gairaigo (外来語) — foreign loan word 

Baraeti (バラエティ) — variety

Baradoru (バラドル) — variety idol 

Chika aidoru (地下アイドル) — underground idol. Chika (地下) means under or below, so subway is “chikatetsu”  (地下鉄)

Otaku (オタク) — geek or nerd

Akushukai (握手会) — handshake event

Gakkou (学校) — school

Mirai (未来) — Future

What do you think of Japanese idol culture?

So there’s a brief glimpse into the Japanese idol culture — from flashy stage outfits and extensive training to unique marketing events, this part of the media culture in Japan is pretty far from dying out.

What are your thoughts of this idol culture, and how can it be improved or should it remain the same? Let us know on our social media platforms. Also, tune in to the full episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast!

The Top 4 Types of Japanese Entertainment

The Top 4 Types of Japanese Entertainment

It’s no secret that Japanese people love their entertainment. A lot of their modern-day practices came from ancient times when the Japanese people back then needed to fill their time with something to entertain themselves. And we’re here to reap the benefits! 

In Season 3 Episode 8 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we had a virtual walkthrough of Japan’s entertainment culture — both traditional and modern. From traditional arcades and classic gaming cafes to Japan-born pachinko and karaoke, time and life in Japan is far from boring. You’ll quite literally never run out of things to do, because there’s always something to do, suburban towns and city centres alike.

This article is a recap of what we went through in the episode, but it also has enough information to answer your probing questions. 

Karaoke

The first on the list is karaoke. What’s Japanese entertainment without karaoke? This singalong, interactive entertainment is not only famous in the origin country Japan itself, but worldwide. If the estimated global karaoke market of $10 billion won’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

Karaoke is basically singing to an instrumented version of a popular song songaku without the vocals. There’s usually a television that shows the lyrics of the song, so you’re basically taking over the part of the vocalist. The word “karaoke” actually came from a famous entertainment group who created the word after an orchestra went on strike and a machine was used to replace the music. Karaoke means “empty orchestra”.

While most of us know karaoke, do we know its history? This first ever karaoke machine was invented by Daisuke Inoue in 1971, and it’s not in Tokyo — but in a city called Kobe. Inoue performed at an utagoe kissa, a type of coffeehouse where customers can sing along to songs during performances. He was asked by his guests to record his performances so that they can sing along at home. After that, he realised the potential for this untapped market, so he made a machine that’s similar to a juke box so it would play songs when a 100 yen coin was inserted. 

Today, karaoke provides a safe space for amateurs and professionals alike to sing their hearts out to their favourite popular songs on the radio. From bars and nightclubs to homemade karaoke stations, karaoke has taken over the world. 

But we can all agree that karaoke is less about the singing and more about having a hell of a time with a group of friends and a couple of drinks on the side.

Pachinko

If you’ve been to Japan, you’d realise that there’s no casino here. You’re right, there isn’t one big gambling facility, but there is pachinko. This mechanical game has arcade spaces dedicated to just them scattered all around the country.

So what exactly is pachinko? It’s pretty similar to the slot machine game in Western gambling. While mostly used for gambling, it’s also a sort of recreational arcade game. First built in the 1920s, it was originally a children’s toy. Its first name was “korinto gēmu” (コリントゲーム) based after the American Corithian bagatelle. It was only in the 1930s that this adult pastime became widespread, from Nagoya outwards.

The thing is, gambling is illegal in Japan. But pachinko offers low-stake gambling that allows some sort of legal loophole. How pachinkos operate is pretty similar to the likes of those in casinos, featuring a few slot machines. When you win a pachinko ball, it’s not allowed to exchange it directly for money or remove it from the premises. So you have to take the long way round: exchange it for “special prize” tokens which you then can legally sell it for cash at a separate vendor. (They say separate, but most of the time, they are owned or working for the pachinko companies themselves, which the tokens would be sold back to at a profit.)

So whether pachinko falls under the grey area of Japan’s gambling laws or just recreational fun, it’s no doubt a huge part of Japanese entertainment. I mean, it beats Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore’s gambling revenue combined — that has to count for something.

Arcades

Who here spent their childhood days stuck behind a pixelated screen and game sticks in a stuffy room with other kids doing the same thing? My after-school days looked just like that. If you think your local arcade is good enough, wait till you see what Japan arcades have to offer.

With multimillion dollar gaming companies like SEGA and Taito, it’s basically a given that any Japanese arcade has the basic 1,000 games — the car races, bike races, basketball and air hockey games are fun, but hold on, if you think that’s all Japanese arcades have, you’re in for a treat. Japan wouldn’t be Japan without their uniqueness and originality.

Physical horseracing is fun and all, but if you’ve never tried and want to see if you’ll do okay, try Japan’s virtual horse racing arcade game. Yup, you don’t have to lift more than a finger — much less get kicked off the back of a horse.

And the tap-dancing arcade games are taken to a whole new level with rhythm games like maimai and taiko drums. Maimai is basically a giant, colourful washing machine-looking screen where you have to hit the buttons that light up in colour. Taiko drums rhythm game uses traditional Japanese instruments to hit when it’s time for the beat count. Who says you can’t learn culture from gaming?

Local Entertainment

So those are all modern Japanese entertainment, what about traditional ones? Local entertainment is definitely something you should have on your Japan bucket list. Have a break from the brightly-lit, music-blaring 21st century technology and time travel to various decades with Japanese traditional and local entertainment.

There’s everything from performances to sports like kendo (Japanese martial arts) and sumo (traditional competitive wrestling involving rikishi, or wrestler, attempting to push the other out of the ring).

Alternatively, give kabuki a shot. This traditional Japanese entertainment is a classical dance-drama performance that originated in the 1600’s. Initially, Kabuki was done by women singing and dancing to themes that were rather erotic. When the Golden Age of Kabuki in Japan came in the 1700’s where women were banned, all-male dance troupe took over, still presenting its original stylisation of drama, extravagant costumes and elaborate makeup.

You could travel even further back in time to the 1300’s with the Noh performance. Similarly, it’s a traditional dance-drama. In short, kabuki’s a more ordinary performance as compared to the strictly traditional Noh, and while kabuki has face paint makeup, Noh has masks.

If you’re not so much of a theatre person, Japan has their own rendition of stand up comedy. Manzai is a classic and traditional Japanese double act comedy, dating back to the 1000s. Basically, there are two performers: a funny man known as the boke and the straight man known as the tsukkomi. Jokes go back and forth based on cultural references and verbal gags like puns and double-talk.

Another form of stand up comedy, but without as many props, is the rakugo from the 1700s. Performers are to only have a handkerchief and a Japanese fan. They’re to tell a story, playing all parts of the scene themselves.

These are all just the tip of the iceberg of traditional entertainment — there’s more where these came from.

Vocab Recap

We used so many interesting Japanese vocabulary words in the full episode. So for those of you who’ve tuned in, here’s a list of them for your reference:

Karaoke (カラオケ) — empty orchestra

Ongaku (音楽) — song

Utagoe kissa (歌声喫茶) — a coffeehouse where customers can sing along to songs. Utagoe (歌声) means singing voice, while kissa (喫茶) or kissaten (喫茶店) means a coffeeshop

Tomodachi to asobu (友達と遊ぶ) — to hang out with friends. Tomodachi (友達) means friend, while asobu (遊ぶ) means to play

Osake (お酒) — alcoholic drinks 

Pachinko (パチンコ) — recreational arcade game that’s usually used for gambling 

Mura (村) — village

Pachisuro (パチスロ) — pachinko slots

Tokushu keihin (特殊景品) — special price tokens

akēdo (アケード) — arcade

Rizumugēmu (リズムゲーム) — rhythm game

Taiko (太鼓) — Japanese traditional drums

Kendo (捲土) — Japanese martial arts

Sumo (スモ) — traditional competitive wrestling

Rikishi (力士) — wrestler

Kabuki (歌舞伎) — traditional dance-drama performance

Kumadori (隈取り) — kabuki makeup

Manzai (漫才) — traditional stand up comedy, and performers are known as manzaishi (漫才師)

Are You Not Entertained?

What did I tell ya — Japanese entertainment is abundant and amusing. And like I said, these are just a handful. Fill up your Japan itinerary with all of these Japanese entertainment and more! Check out the full episode if you want to know more about these types of entertainment mentioned, only on the Nihongo Master Podcast!

3 Things To Take Note of When Packing for Japan

3 Things To Take Note of When Packing for Japan

Who else is rusty when it comes to traveling, particularly packing for traveling? I have never been an expert at packing – even before the whole pandemic. Who’s with me? 

As we prepare for the world to open up again and book our flights to Japan, we also need to prepare ourselves for the tedious bits that come with travelling. One of them is packing. Packing for Japan can differ from packing for other countries as it does depend, to an extent, on the convenience of the country and the things you do when you’re there. There are other things to keep in mind such as packing the right clothes for the season. 

In this article, we shortlist 3 things you need to take note of when packing for your Japan trip! 

1. Travel Light

The first thing you need to take note of is to travel light. I don’t know about you but I have a tough time travelling light. I’m a big fashion gal, and if you’re planning to travel to Tokyo, one of the most fashionable cities, you want to fit in, right? Don’t be tempted and keep the number of clothings in your suitcase to a minimum. 

If you’re travelling to Japan in summer, it’s easier to cut down clothes because it does get really warm in Japan. You’re better off with dresses and cotton t-shirts your whole trip. 

When travelling to Japan in the colder months, I personally advise to travel as light as possible and leave the heavy sweaters and coats behind. Opt for lighter and thinner, yet still warm, fabrics like pashmina and cashmere. There are also jackets where they have 3-in-1 function – it can be a waterproof jacket as well as one that keeps you warmer with detachable fleece lining. Those kinds of designs are perfect for travelling!

This not only cuts down your baggage allowance but also gives you extra space for shopping! And trust me, you’ll shop quite a bit in Japan.

2. Travel Hands-Free

The next thing to note is that you’d want to travel hands-free as much as possible. This means you don’t want to be lugging around your suitcase when you arrive, and want to make the most of the time you have in the country. The first thing you can do is book a flight that lands at an appropriate time and allows you to check into your hotel directly. Alternatively, you can book a hotel that lets you check in early. 

However, if you do find yourself having a few hours to spare in between landing and checking in, don’t panic. You don’t have to go around with your luggage. 

You can arrange at the airport for your luggage to be sent directly to the hotel on the same day. The luggage forwarding service is called TA-Q-BIN by the locals. You can spot it by the red sign “Hand Free Travel”. It costs about ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 depending on the size and weight of your luggage.

Another thing you can do is store your luggage in coin lockers that are literally everywhere in the country. Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka have them at almost every train station. Depending on the size of the locker, it can cost ¥300 to ¥800 for a whole day to store your luggage.

There are also companies that store your luggage for you and can be as low as ¥500 a day. One of them is called the Voyagin Office, located in Shibuya.

And if you’re really tight on budget, just drop off your luggage at the hotel reception. Most of the time, they allow you to store it there until your check in time. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or someplace similar, then there’s a chance you’re not able to do that. 

3. Have A Travel Document Checklist

I believe the best thing to do for any trip is to have a travel checklist. This is basically what you need to prepare in advance before your trip.

A valid passport and visa: you can’t travel anywhere without a passport. To travel into Japan, your passport has to be valid for at least 6 months. Make sure there are a couple of blank pages in it as well. If your country requires a visa to get into Japan, and you are not eligible to get a visa at the time of landing, be sure to apply for that in advance. 

Travel insurance: I personally swear by travel insurance, and with this current pandemic, it’s even more crucial. Do research on the insurance companies, and look out for those offering COVID-19 coverage on top of the general coverage of lost baggage, injury, medical attention while travelling, cancellation and more. It might be a requirement to have COVID-19 coverage for travel.

Flight tickets: If you haven’t booked your flights before packing for the trip, I suggest booking them now! The earlier you purchase them, the better. Read carefully about the cancellation and amendments policy, in case you need to change your dates or cancel the trip. Have a copy of the confirmation on your phone for when you go to the airport.

Accommodation reservation: Do a bit of research as to where you’re going to stay in Japan. There are a few different types of accommodation offered, like hotels, hostels, bed and breakfast, and Airbnbs. Consider the location, price and accessibility when looking for an accommodation. If you have a lot of suitcases with you, check that the building has an elevator. Since buildings in Japan can be old, this might not be a common thing to have with accommodation types other than hotels.

Transport reservation: Have you looked into how you’re going to get to your accommodation from the airport? Research that so you don’t have any mishaps when you arrive. Public transport is very convenient in Japan, so you can definitely consider that. Buses directly to city centres are the most convenient in my opinion. 

However, airport to hotel transport is also something to look into. This service, as well as taxis, can get quite expensive.

Travel SIM or Portable WiFi: Sometimes we take our convenience of accessibility and forget about these things when travelling. While WiFi is widely available in major cities in Japan, it’s not as reliable and can often be slow. Rural Japan won’t have this same level of access to WiFi.

Think about whether you want to get a portable WiFi and share with your family and friends or to just get a travel SIM card. Either way, reserve or purchase them beforehand so you can get connected right away when you arrive in Japan. Buying them at the airport is costly as compared to buying in advance.

Downloading any appropriate apps: If you’re travelling to big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, chances are you’re going to be fine without knowing any Japanese. If you’re planning to travel to other parts of the country, you might find yourself struggling a bit. I suggest downloading  all the necessary apps like Google Translate or dictionary apps like Imiwa. These apps are sure to ease your journey so much more. 

Other apps to download include taxi apps like JapanTaxi. Uber is not widely used in Japan so if you want to use this kind of service, you have to use apps like JapanTaxi.

Transport card: Do a bit of research as to how you are going to get around in Japan. The transport cards in Japan are IC Cards like Suica and Icoca. You can use them on trains and buses, as well as pay for stuff at convenience stores, supermarkets and restaurants.

Alternatively, you can also purchase the JR Pass. Depending on how long you’re travelling in Japan and where you plan to go, you might want to get the JR Pass. This will cut you a lot of costs, especially if you’re travelling to more than one city.

International driver’s permit: Prepare your international driver’s permit if you think you want to rent a car or go go-karting in Japan. Be sure to apply in advance in your home country before flying so you have time to receive it before your trip.

Have Fun Packing!

If you have the bases covered with these three tips, you’re good to go packing for your Japan trip! Check out our other article on what to pack for your Japan trip if you’re stuck with it! 

Japanese Etiquette When Travelling!

Japanese Etiquette When Travelling!

As Japan slowly opens up the borders again, who else is looking up flight dates to Japan? Finally, we can visit our favourite country again! But when we do get there, let’s not forget that we have to be on our best behaviour, since Japanese customs and etiquette are very different from the rest of the world.

Japanese mannerisms are abundant, and some might say that there are a bit too many to remember in a short period of time for a short trip. So to get you prepared for your trip, we’ve done up this article for travellers in a rush to get into the minimal Japanese manners mode for that week-long Japan trip we all hope to be on this year (like finally).

There are three parts of this episode: public manners, indoor manners and holy grounds etiquette, indoor manners. This article is a snippet and recap of our Season 10 Episode 7 of the Nihongo Master Podcast! The whole season focuses on Japanese mannerisms, so tune in to that for your on-the-go learning of Japanese etiquette!

Japanese Public Manners

The first category of mannerisms for travellers we’re going to touch on is public manners. This is arguably the most important category in this collection of manners. In Japanese culture, unspoken rules are a big thing, and everyone abides by them. The concept of “public” and “private” in Japan can be quite different from other cultures, so if you don’t exactly know if it’s a private or public space, just treat it as public just to be safe.

There are tons of unspoken rules for how to act in public, but don’t worry, I’ll loop you in on the 5 most important ones.

1. Keep volume down

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 seen as respecting the space that you share with other strangers.

When you’re with a group of people, try your very best to keep your volume down, especially so when on public transport. Even when you’re alone, you’re expected to not blast music too loud on your headphones, as this might disturb the person next to you. 

2. Queuing

The next unspoken rule in public spaces is the queuing system. The Japanese love their queues! They queue for the ramen shop, outside of a store before it opens, and even for the escalators and lifts! Even on street pavements and public transport platforms, there are signs to indicate which side to stick to or where to queue so as to not cross paths and walk into each other. 

With that in mind, follow the queue system for everything in Japan. I think this etiquette is extremely convenient during rush hours and crowded streets. Fall in line and you won’t have to dodge people’s shoulders like it’s a game of dodgeball.

3. Stop to eat and drink

Eating and drinking while walking on the streets are not taken positively. This is because when you do this, it’s considered as disrespecting others walking in the same area as you. That being said, don’t drink or eat on the trains either, for the exact same reason. Oh, this excludes long-distance train rides like the Shinkansen (新幹線), which are Japanese bullet trains. 

So what if you’re hungry or thirsty? Japan is scattered with convenience stores and vending machines, and the Japanese would eat or drink there and then. 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. 

Indoor Manners

Now we’re moving on to indoor manners. You might think you wouldn’t need this, because you think you wouldn’t be in someone’s house during your time in Japan, but trust me, this also applies to ryokan (which are traditional Japanese hotels) and events like tea ceremonies. 

4. Leave your shoes at the door

The first one is a crucial one to remember whenever entering any indoor space, and that is to leave your shoes at the door! Some of us come from cultures and countries where it’s normal to wear your outdoor shoes in your house, but in Japan, there’s a very clear distinction between soto (外, outside) and uchi (内, inside).

In fact, 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. 

Oftentimes, when entering an indoor space, you will find a genkan, which is the entrance area. This bit is considered as soto, even though you’re indoors, and it’s where you remove or put back on your outdoor shoes. The indoor space is usually elevated and can be covered by a different type of flooring, so that’s your best way to differentiate the two. 

In some cases, you’ll be given indoor shoes, most likely slippers. I’ve picked up the habit of wearing indoor shoes in my home too.

5. Wear socks if possible

Now the next rule isn’t exactly a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s linked to the first one. Wear socks if possible, because they’ll be on display quite a bit. Some places don’t offer indoor slippers, and the Japanese believe that having socks on in the house is better than bare feet so as to not carry dust around.

One time you should definitely consider wearing socks is when you’re visiting a traditional indoor space. Say, for example, you’re going to a traditional tea ceremony in Japan. Most of the time these events take place in a tatami mat room, and it’s better to walk on tatami with socks so as to not damage the flooring.

6. Bathroom slippers

Now the third rule for indoor spaces is to take note of bathroom slippers. Sometimes in bathrooms, there will be bathroom slippers offered. In this case, leave your house slippers (if you have them on) outside the bathroom and switch for the bathroom slippers when you enter. Don’t forget to switch back after you’re done!

Visiting Holy Grounds

The third category of Japanese mannerisms for travellers is when visiting holy grounds. Temples and shrines are scattered all around the island — so many that you might even find yourself on holy ground without even realising! 

Now you might not find these pointers on any of the articles you Googled online, because these three tips are from my own personal experience and observation. 

7. Don’t touch

The first rule of this category is don’t touch anything. I know, curiosity kills the cat, but refrain from mindlessly touching things you don’t know about on holy ground, out of respect. If there’s something on holy grounds that looks unique and intriguing, it’s because it’s meant to be there for a purpose. You can admire something’s beauty without having your fingerprints all over them!

But of course, there are also things that you can touch, and oftentimes there are signs to signal that you can.

8. Ask if you don’t know

The next thing to remember when visiting holy grounds is that it’s okay to ask if you don’t know something. In fact, I recommend asking. Say for example you want to know if something is okay to touch, go up to any official staff worker on premises and ask them. In smaller, more local temples and shrines, there aren’t that many signs that explain things, so I found myself always asking if I could enter a space, or if I should take off my shoes. It’s so much better to get that clarified instead of wandering around and potentially misstepping. 

9. Behave respectfully

Now the last rule, the general rule, is to behave respectfully. The first two points actually fall under this one, because if you think about it, the reasoning behind those two rules is because you’re respecting the holy grounds.

If you’re entering a church or a mosque, you’re going to behave respectfully just naturally, right? Similarly, with shrines and temples, you should do the same. Keep these things in mind: keeping quiet, whispering instead of talking at a normal volume if you want to talk to your friend, observing what others are doing to give you a sense of what you can do.

Vocab Recap

In the podcast episode, we used a lot of useful and related vocabulary words. Here we summarise them in a list for listeners to refer back to!

Koukyou no basho (公共の場所) — public space. Koukyou (公共) is public, and basho (場所) means place

Densha (電車) — train

Sasuga (さすが) — as expected 

Narabu (並ぶ) — to queue

Konbini (コンビニ) — convenience store

Shinkansen (新幹線) — Japanese bullet trains 

Uchi (内) — inside

Soto (外) — outside

Ryokan (旅館) — traditional Japanese inn

Izakaya (居酒屋) — Japanese style pub

Genkan (玄関) — the entrance bit in homes and other types of establishments

Seiza (星座) — the proper way of seating in Japanese culture

Tera (寺) — temple

Jinja (神社) — shrine

Shitsumon (質問) — question

Sonkei (尊敬) — respect

Safe Travels to Japan!

These are the absolute minimal, essential Japanese etiquette that you should know when you travel to Japan. While these are general rules for travellers, it doesn’t mean you should ignore them if you plan on living in Japan. In fact, you should know more than just these mannerisms! So tune in to the other episodes of Season 10 of the Nihongo Master Podcast for all you need to know about Japanese Mannerisms!