Shougatsu: How Japanese People Celebrate the New Year’s

Shougatsu: How Japanese People Celebrate the New Year’s

Whoa, 2021 zipped by so fast! We’re already in December and counting down the days to the new year. How crazy is that? 

When the new year approaches, people of all cultures and traditions start preparing to welcome the upcoming year. In Japan, the new year is a big thing for the people here. It is, without a doubt, one of the most festive times of the year and brings about unique, local traditions that are only practiced in The Land of the Rising Sun. 

In this article, we’ll look at the significance of the New Year in Japan, the unique traditions and customs practiced, and even a few useful Japanese phrases for you to try out this new year!

New Year in Japan

The New Year brings out the good in everyone. Regardless of culture, we all go all out when it comes to welcoming a fresh, full-of-potential new year. In Japan, the New Year’s is called shougatsu (正月), which translates to the Japanese New Year festival. 

Festivities for this special occasion start well before the first of January and run through January 7th. For some regions, it extends till January 15th! On top of that, a lot of local companies and businesses are usually closed from December 29th till January 4th. Many people travel back to their hometowns to spend time with family and loved ones. 

All over the country, there are firework displays and concerts held to celebrate and count down. One of the biggest countdown events in Japan is in the capital city Tokyo, at the heart of the city center in Shibuya. Thousands of people gather to scream at the top of their lungs the ticking time to midnight, before dispersing to clubs and bars to drink till the sun comes up.

Every 2nd of January, the Imperial Palace is open to the public. This is one out of two days in the year. Visitors can pay respects to Japan’s royal household as well as to hear the Emperor addressing the crowd of well-wishers.

New Year Traditions

On top of countdown events and partying, there are special New Year traditions that are greatly linked to Japanese culture. The traditions of Shougatsu are to express gratitude for the past year as well as wish for health and prosperity for the upcoming year. 

The most practiced tradition of the New Year is the annual temple visit, along with eating New Year foods.

Temple Visiting

The most important practice of shougatsu is “hatsumode” (初詣). This is the first shrine or temple visit of the year. Over 100 million people visit a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple during this time of the year. The objective of the visit is to pray for good luck.

Some Buddhist temples would ring the bell 108 times when the clock strikes midnight. This is to represent the 108 worldly sins and desires in Buddhism. Some visitors are able to ring the temple bell too, which symbolises their sins being cleansed. This event is known as joya no kane (除夜の鐘).

Another part of the temple visiting tradition is the omikuji (御神籤), which is a fortune paper where people can draw their luck. If one draws a bad fortune, they can tie it to a tree on the temple or shrine grounds as a way to reverse the luck. 

It’s also very common for visitors to buy omamori (お守り) on New Year’s. These are lucky charms in silk brocade and have pieces of small paper or wood inside them. There are various types of charms for various things, including love and pregnancy. Depending on what one wishes for the new year, they will get the charm for that. 

New Year Food

A big tradition on New Year’s is the food. Like other cultures, family come together and gather to eat traditional dishes during this special occasion. 

One of the most significant types of New Year food is osechi ryori (お節料理). This is a type of cuisine that has many small dishes. For New Year’s, there are at least 50 types, with each symbolising something different like health, longevity and happiness. Because it’s a common tradition, many supermarkets and convenience stores will sell them during this time of the year.

Another common New Year’s dish is the toshikoshi soba, also known as the year-end soba. It’s a simple meal served in hot broth to eat just before midnight. The shape of the long pasta represents the passage from one year to the next.

Mochi (もち) is also eaten on New Year’s. This is a type of chewy rice cake. A traditional activity on New Year’s is to prepare mochi yourself.

Other Traditions

While those two are the main traditions often practiced during this time of the year, there are other traditions, of course. One of it is hatsuhinode (初日の出), where people get up really early to watch the first sunrise of the year on January 1st. People gather at the coast or mountain to witness the beautiful first dawn. 

Some people also fly kites for the new year. Back in the day, people would fly kites in the form of Japanese demons, known as oniyouzu (鬼用ず), as a symbolic way to get rid of evil. Nowadays, normal kites are used. 

Another unique Japanese tradition for New Year’s is sending greeting cards. This is known as nenga (年賀). People would send out cards to friends and family to wish them a happy new year. 

Useful New Year Japanese Phrases

There are useful phrases to use during this time of the year. We have an article of a longer list of phrases for the holidays here. But for the New Year’s, there are two main ones:

The first one is “akemashite omedetou” (あけましておめでとう).

This translates to “happy new year”. You can make it formal by adding “gozaimasu” at the end to make “akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (あけましておめでとうございます).

That phrase is used for on or after the new year’s. If you want to greet someone happy new year before the actual new year, you say it as:

“Yoi otoshi wo omakae kudasai” (よいお年をお迎えください).

The short form version is: yoi otoshi wo (よいお年を).

Another common phrase often said after these two greetings is:

“Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (今年もよろしくお願いします).

This translates to “I hope to count on you this year”.

Happy New Year! Yoi Otoshi Wo!

And that’s generally what you need to know about the Japanese New Year and their traditions! If you would like to know more, our Nihongo Master Podcast’s newest season, Season 9, covers all there is to know about Japanese Winter and traditions, which includes the very festive Oshougatsu! Check it out! Till then, Happy New Year everyone! Rainen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu! 来年もよろしくお願いします!

5 Unique Ways the Japanese Celebrate Christmas!

5 Unique Ways the Japanese Celebrate Christmas!

Christmas is just around the corner. Aren’t we all excited for this festive season? I know I am! In Japan, they too celebrate Christmas. Over the years, the country has adopted many foreign customs and traditions, and that included this Western holiday. 

However, just like everything else, Japan adds their own twist to this tradition and makes it their own. Of course, you’ll still hear jingle bells and Christmas tunes all throughout the country, but there are just a few celebrations that are unique to Japan only. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top 5 ways Japan celebrates Christmas differently from the usual.

1. A Holiday for Lovers

Generally, Christmas is known as a Christian holiday. Most of the Western world goes all out for this time of the year. Well, so do the Japanese. However, it’s treated more like a secular celebration regardless of religion. In fact, there are only a few percent of Japanese people that consider themselves as Christian, and mostly consider themselves as Buddhist or Shinto.

On top of that, Christmas is usually celebrated as a family. Members of the family come together and gather regardless of where they are in the world to be together during this time of the year. However, in Japan, it’s more of a celebration for lovers. It’s quite rare that you celebrate this as a family, unless you have young kids and make a practice of celebrating it the Western way. 

Usually, couples would plan romantic dates for the Christmas period, like a dinner at a fancy restaurant or strolling around festive areas in town with Christmas lights. 

2. KFC Chicken Feast!

Yes, the rumours are true. During Christmas time, the Japanese go crazy for KFC fried chicken! Rather than feasting on glazed ham and roasted turkey, the most popular choice for Christmas lunch or dinner is a good ol ‘bucket of fried chicken from the fast food chain KFC!

In fact, the popularity is so ridiculous that some outlets take preorders months in advance and the dates get sold out so quickly! Last year, I had friends who made orders as early as October! It’s no joke here for the fight for KFC chicken. It’s the real deal!

But hey, if you’re not fast enough to snag a bucket of KFC fried chicken, there are tons of other stores and convenience stores that offer them during this time of the year. They’re not the same, but they’re close enough, I reckon.

3. Christmas Illuminations & Markets

Japan goes all out for this time of the year. I love being in Japan during this season. Everything’s so colourful and lively. And that’s all thanks to winter illuminations that start up as soon as Halloween is over. Japanese cities are lit up with twinkling eco-friendly LED lights. Tokyo is probably the most festive city in Japan during this season. You see trees decorated with these lights, all down the street. 

Attraction sites have their own winter special illumination events, too. Flower parks and amusement parks have special decorations just for this season. Even shopping malls turn an ordinary trip to the mall into a magical fantasy experience.

Speaking of decorations, shopping for Christmas decorations and decorating the house is also a thing here. And where else can you get them other than Christmas markets? Of course, local supermarkets and convenience stores offer them too, but you get unique, authentic ones at these Christmas markets. 

From the beginning of December, a lot of them pop up, especially in Tokyo. The most popular one is the German Christmas Market in Roppongi that always brings in thousands of visitors every year! Other parts of Japan have Christmas markets too, including the northern city Sapporo.

4. Special Christmas Cakes! 

When we think of Christmas desserts, we think of gingerbread men, other types of cookies and also pie. Japan is number one when it comes to dessert, so you would think they would have them all.

Close. They have Christmas cakes! Cakes aren’t only enjoyed during your birthday. During Christmas, getting a special Christmas cake is a big tradition practiced here! They’re not the usual fruitcake that you would usually eat in European and American countries. Instead, the most popular kind of cake for this season is the sponge cake-based strawberry shortcake!

This love affair Japan has with cakes date back to 1922, when the confectionery manufacturer Fujiya started marketing cream-covered cakes with the tagline “kurisumasu ni keeki wo tabemashou!” (クリスマスにケーキを食べましょう) to mean “let’s eat cake on Christmas!”

Although, while the most popular choice of cake is the strawberry shortcake, I have heard from my Japanese friends that they also opt for chocolate cake nowadays. Maybe the trends have changed now, and any type of cake, as long as it’s marketed as a Christmas cake, will do?

5. Japanese Version of Santa 

We’re all waiting for the main question: what about presents? Not to fret everyone, the concept of Santa Claus and practice gift-giving is still alive and well in Japan. Kids in Japan look forward to a visit from Santa and opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Couples also exchange gifts, and usually done on Christmas Eve instead.

Here’s a fun unique twist: Western tradition has Santa climbing down chimneys. This is pretty difficult to do in Japan when a lot of people don’t have one in their homes. So instead, Santa is seen as some kind of magical ghost with exciting treats!

However, as compared to Western countries, gift giving isn’t that significant. It plays a much smaller role. It may be because that Japan has their own gift-giving day known as “Oseibo” (お歳暮) at the end of the year. .

Have a Merry Japanese Christmas! 

If you abide by these five fun facts of Japanese Christmas, you’re going to have one hell of a unique holiday! Whether or not you live in Japan, if you’d like to spice up your holiday, why not celebrate Christmas the Japanese way? Have a merry Japanese Christmas, everyone!

What to Do in Japan: Wonderful Winter Edition!

What to Do in Japan: Wonderful Winter Edition!

I love winter, but not everybody will be on the same page as me on this. Not a lot of people like winter. This chilly season is more often wished away than greeted. It can bring moods down and keep doors shut. 

However, winter in Japan is simply magical. It’s more like a fairytale land than anything else. Trees and slopes in northern Japan are coated with snow. Illuminations take over the streets in the city. Markets pop up just about everywhere on this island nation. Long story short, Japan goes all out during this season. 

So instead of avoiding winter in Japan, why not take a shot at it? There are various fun things to do during Japanese winter, and here, we list the top 7 ones that will definitely get you interested!

1. Attend winter festivals

What’s a Japanese winter without a few festivals? Heck, what is Japan without festivals all year round? December is one of the most festive months in the year, in fact. You get everything from winter festivals to special Christmas markets. And the best part is that you can find at least one in any town in Japan!

The best cities to go to for winter festivals are up north in Hokkaido. One of the most popular winter festivals is the Sapporo Snow Festival, where you get to witness everything from crafted ice sculptures to special winter performances. Over two million visitors travel up north for this occasion alone! 

Alternatively, you can head down to the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival. Thousands of traditional Japanese igloo line up and light up in orange, twinking glows. These dome sculptures are one of a kind!

2. Play winter sports

Whether or not you’re a sports person, winter sports in Japan shouldn’t be missed. It’s arguably one of the best places for skiing and snowboarding. The snow in Japan is as soft as a pillow, so it’s the best place for beginners to try these sports out. One ski resort can have slopes accommodating all levels of skiers and snowboarders, from beginners to advanced.

If you have the time, stay at Zao Ski Resort. This ski resort is known for its ice-coated trees that are nicknamed “snow monsters”. You guessed it, they look like snow monsters! The best part is that you can zoom past and in between them. What a way to elevate your winter sports experience!

3. Visit an onsen

If you don’t already know it yet, Japan is famous for its hot springs, or onsen (温泉). There’s no better way to keep yourself warm than by dipping your entire body into hot springs water. It’s like getting the warmest hug in the world. You can find an onsen at a standalone establishment or attached to traditional ryokans (旅館).

One of the best places to go for onsen is Ginzan Onsen. It’s an onsen town tucked away in the middle of the mountains. Every corner is full of nature. If you’re looking for the most authentic onsen experience, this place is your best bet.

Another onsen establishment that’ll no doubt give you a unique onsen experience is Kowakien Yunessun. There’s everything from pools of coffee and green tea to red wine and Japanese sake! 

4. Enjoy the winter illuminations 

I’m a sucker for illuminations, and Japan does not fail when it comes to their winter illuminations. Thousands and millions of tiny bulbs light up streets and decorate cities. Walk down any street of Tokyo and you’ll definitely stumble upon a few trees wrapped with twinkling lights. 

A city not far from Tokyo has a Dutch theme park called Huis Ten Bosch that hosts one of the best winter illumination events. Over 13 million light bulbs decorate the park in rainbow colours! Nagoya’s Nabana no Sato is also another location that has  an illumination event not to be missed. It’s originally a flower park, so can you imagine these beautiful florals being highlighted even more with magical twinkle lights? 

5. Travel to Japan’s exclusive winter sites

Japan is full of nature, and when winter comes, some of them are even more beautiful than normal. These exclusive winter sites in Japan are worth the travel, as you can only witness these sights at this specific time of the year. One not too far away from Tokyo is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Wild Japanese macaques dip in their own little onsen pool in Yokoyu River. 

Shirakawago Village is also another winter site in Japan that’s popular. It’s actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll get to witness the Gassho-zukuri farmhouses draped in snowfall, and if you’re lucky, snag some tickets for their exclusive illumination light show event. 

6. Go ice skating in town

It’s hard to pack in a lot of activities in just a short holiday trip to Japan. If you don’t have time to travel to various places for some winter activities, the big towns have a surprise for you: outdoor ice skating rinks. When December rolls around, cities like Osaka and Tokyo open up outdoor rinks for you to show off your skating skills. 

Places to recommend are Tokyo Skytree Town Ice Skating Park and Yokohama’s Art Rink in Red Brick Warehouse. I’ll have to warn you, these places get really crowded, especially on the weekend. Try to drop by during the weekdays to avoid the crowd. 

7. Shop at Christmas markets

Another Japanese winter activity you can find in the bigger cities in Japan is Christmas markets. Christmas is one of two huge celebrations in the country. Special markets pop up as early as the start of December. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some opening up at the end of November. 

One of the most famous ones is Roppongi’s annual Christmas Market that brings in the crowds every year. You get your usual Christmas goodies, but you can also munch on some German delicacies and shop for some German Christmas decorations. It’s like being in two countries at once!

Which Japanese winter activity is your favourite? 

Even though there are only seven activities on this list, there’s actually so many more things you can do in Japan. The list can quite literally be endless. Winter in Japan is pretty awesome. It doesn’t get too cold. It doesn’t rain most of the season. The sky is pretty clear. Start planning your Japanese winter holiday now!

Top 9 Cultural Autumn Festivals to Attend in Japan!

Top 9 Cultural Autumn Festivals to Attend in Japan!

I don’t know about you but autumn is one of my favourite seasons ever. Autumn in Japan is beautiful – I’d argue that it’s just as beautiful as spring in Japan! Everyone in the country is looking for a bit of chill in the air after the hot and humid summer season. 

And not only is the weather a bit cooler, but the colours of the scenery changes too! The lush greens gradually change to vibrant shades of red and orange. And just like how people go for cherry blossom viewing (or hanami 花見) in spring, they go for autumn leaves viewing (or momijigari 紅葉狩り) in fall! I personally went from north to south of Japan just to witness this changing season. 

But that’s not all. Japanese autumn is full of cultural festivals. As I always mention, the Japanese love to celebrate anything and everything! While summer is the season with the most festivals, autumn is a runner up. Here we have a list of 9 culturally exciting autumn festivals for you to consider when visiting Japan during this season! 

1. Otsukimi (Nationwide)

One of the most exciting festivals to look out for during autumn in Japan is otsukimi (お月見), which translates to “moon viewing”. Somewhere from the middle of September and lasting till the beginning of October, you’ll get the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the ancient calendar.  This is known as the juugoya (十五夜), which is the night of the harvest moon and believed to be the most beautiful moon of the whole year!

During this time, the Japanese celebrate the cultural practice of moon-viewing to show their appreciation and pray for a successful seasonal harvest. Some even throw moon-viewing parties with friends and family. Decorations are put outside of houses, which includes pampas grass to resemble rice stalks and white rice cakes (dango 団子) to resemble the moon.

2. Shichi-Go-San (Nationwide)

Another autumn cultural festival that happens worldwide is the Shichi-Go-San (七五三), which literally translates to 7-5-3. This cultural festival involves families bringing their kids aged 3, 5 or 7 to the local shrine on the 15th of November. However, nowadays, families would schedule their visits for weekends close to the date to avoid the crowds. 

The history of this festival goes way back, believed to have originated in the Heinz period. This cultural festival is a way to celebrate the healthy growth of kids and also to pray for their future. The ages 3, 5 and 7 are odd numbers and believed to be numbers of good luck. So this festival involves a ceremony where they celebrate the healthy growth of the children into middle childhood as well as pray for their future.

Children are all dressed up and dolled up in the prettiest kimono and hakama, which are traditional Japanese costumes. Girls, particularly, are polished up in pretty makeup and hairstyles. 

3. Tori no Ichi (Nationwide)

Good things come in three. The third nationwide cultural festival in Japan is Tori no Ichi (酉の市). This is translated as “The Day of the Bird” and is one celebrated since quite a while back, since the Edo Period. While this cultural festival is famously celebrated in Tokyo, Tori no Ichi is actually celebrated nationwide with street parades, stalls and decorations. 

The cultural festival falls on the day of the rooster in the lunar calendar. In the olden days, this day was the best day for farmers to sell their goods and harvest that they got from the autumn harvest. It’s also a day that signifies the start of an economically strong year.

4. Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu)

In Gifu Prefecture, a cultural festival that’s pretty well known nationwide is the Takayama Autumn Festival, celebrating for more than 350 years in early October. More than 100,000 visitors from all over the country travel to Takayama City every year to attend this festival.

The highlight of this cultural festival is the festival floats, each having their own theme based on Japanese traditions. But while the actual festival day itself is the highlight, the days leading up to the parade are no bore either. Food and drink stalls as well as artisan vendors are set up, along with the best entertainment on the streets. 

There’s also a Takayama Spring Festival if you missed out on this autumn festival. It’s not the same, but it’s a good replacement! 

5. Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)

One of the biggest autumn cultural festivals in Japan is the Kurama Fire Festival in Kyoto. The main object of this festival is….fire! You’ve got to travel into the mountains of Kurama for this event, but it’s not too far away from the capital city Kyoto. 

At the end of October, the festival starts right after sunset. Guests and participants dress in costumes to carry torches down the streets towards Yuki-jinja Shrine. At the end of the march, there’s a huge bonfire! It’s kind of like the summer festival Obon, because both festivals are about welcoming spirits. The difference is that this festival welcomes spirits from the shrine into the village. These spirits are believed to offer protection. 

6. Zuiki Festival (Kyoto)

Another Kyoto autumn cultural festival is the Zuiki Festival, which dates back to 947. This is another event that is a show of thanks for a good harvest, taking place between the first to the fifth of October. During this festival, you get to see a portable shrine known as mikoshi (神輿) that is decorated with taro stems being carried around the shrine grounds. This portable shrine is accompanied by about 350 priests and shrine parishioners! 

Performances are also part of this cultural festival. Some special ones open and end the event. One of them is a dance called yaotomemai, which means “sacred dance”, that’s performed by elementary school girls from the local area. 

7. Saga International Balloon Festival (Saga)

This is one of the lesser known cultural festivals by foreigners but definitely one extravagantly celebrated by the locals. Saga International Balloon Festival takes place in Saga prefecture at the end of October. This annual balloon festival is the largest in all of Asia! 

At around 5:30 in the morning, more than 50 hot air balloons start floating into the sky! But if you’re not there that early, there’s a night show where you can catch these balloons all lit up. Stick around for the huge market in the area, selling Saga-made products, food and drinks, and crafts. 

8. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Fukushima)

In Fukushima at Nihonmatsu Shrine, the annual Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival takes place at the beginning of October. This is such an old cultural festival that has been going on for almost 400 years! Around 300 lanterns are involved, along with 65,000 people visiting annually!

This cultural festival is a way to honour the Hachiman and Kumano gods of the Nihonmatsu Shrine. These gods are believed to be the ones giving power to the rice plants and harvesting season. 

The shrine priests perform ceremonial prayers before sunset. A lot of incense is being burned too. Then, the lanterns are placed on seven floats, with some tied to long bamboo poles and stand up on the floats to represent rice plants. The marching parade only starts after sunset, accompanied by taiko drums and flute music.  and after sunset, the parade starts with taiko drums and flute music to accompany the march. 

9. Supernatural Cat Festival (Tokyo)

Last but not least, a more modern yet still cultural autumn festival in Japan is the Supernatural Cat Festival in Tokyo! Every year on the 13th of October, you’ll find people dressed as cats roaming the streets of the Kagurazaka neighbourhood. Anyone can participate, and to participate, all you need is to pay the entrance fee and a cat costume!

If you don’t have a cat costume, get your face painted by an on-site makeup artist! And just like any other Japanese cultural festivals, you have food stalls and dance performances to accompany the parade. 

Get your cultural experience at these top festivals!

There are tons of other Japanese cultural festivals in autumn, and if I were to list them all, it’d be an endless article. To get you started on that autumn festival checklist, these 9 festivals are a good starting point. Which ones will make it to your Japan autumn itinerary? 

15 Unique Japanese Souvenirs To Buy in Japan

15 Unique Japanese Souvenirs To Buy in Japan

I don’t know about you, but shopping is time consuming for me. That includes souvenir shopping. When travelling, we’re trying to explore the country and city that we’re in. Shopping should take up the least of our time.

But when in Japan, souvenir shopping can be overwhelming and time consuming, because there are so many things to consider when buying souvenirs for friends and family back home. Not to fret, we’ve come up with a list of the 15 most unique Japanese souvenirs to buy in Japan!

These items can range from very cheap to a more exclusive price, so there’s a bit of everything for everyone! Keep on reading to find out more!

Traditional Clothing

1. Kimono/Yukata

One of the best souvenirs you can get from Japan is definitely the traditional wear! There are two general types: a kimono and a yukata. A kimono is the standard one you see everywhere, but it can cost quite a bit to get an authentic one. A yukata is a summer version of the kimono, so for those of you who live in tropical countries, this is perfect. I think yukatas are definitely cheaper, but you’ll never know! Some thrift shops offer both for a bargain!

2. Geta and Zori Sandals

Why not complete the kimono or yukata with a geta or zori? These are traditional sandals and definitely unique to Japan. The best part about these sandals is that they make a very unique clip-clop noise when you walk.

It can be a thoughtful gift for your friends or family. You can also get one for yourself as a way to remember Japan! Oh, take note: these shoes can be a little tricky to walk at first, but you’ll get used to it, for sure.

Japanese Art

3. Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

One of the most unique souvenirs you can get from Japan is a ukiyo-e artwork. Ukiyo-e is a kind of Japanese artwork popular during the Edo period. This style of art uses woodblocks to make the prints. It’s said to be the world’s oldest form of colour copying!

You can get all sorts of pictures in the ukiyo-e form, everything from kabuki actors to the scenic landscape of Mount Fuji.

4. Calligraphy Sets

If you have an artsy friend, get them a Japanese calligraphy set. One of Japan’s art forms is calligraphy, drawing kanji characters in cursive handwriting. Not only is this a perfect souvenir but it also adds a personal thought into the gift when presenting it to your artsy companion. 

5. Bonsai

If your friend or family member has a green thumb instead, get them a bonsai tree. Or at least, a bonsai planting kit. This can range anywhere from 10 bucks to 100 bucks, but I personally have seen souvenir, travel-friendly kits sold at sightseeing spots. Bonsai is becoming a popular choice of souvenir! 

Japanese Crafts

6. Sensu

If you’re on a bit of a budget for souvenirs, try getting sensu, which is a kind of Japanese fan. This is sold everywhere, from small local shops to 100-yen shops nationwide! It’s often carried around and tucked into kimonos and yukatas, making a perfect traditional souvenir for a bargain price!

7. Origami

If you’re on even more of a budget, get some origami paper. Japanese origami is so popular and it’s so light and cheap, it’s perfect for a souvenir. You can find them in most stationery shops and souvenir shops, and their price range can vary. 

8. Chochin

Want to bring a bit of Japan back home to your house? Get a chochin, which is a paper lantern. You see them outside of Japanese local food shops, emitting red light. It’s not common to have it in the house, but hey, it makes a perfect decoration for back home. 

Cultural Items

9. Inkan

Get a customised souvenir for your loved ones by getting an inkan. These are stamps that the Japanese use instead of signatures. You can pre-make your inkan at shops like Don Quijote! It’s not as cheap, as it can cost about 30 bucks. But it’s definitely worth the money!

10. Omamori Charms

A convenient souvenir to get is omamori, which is known as good luck charms. You can find them at any temple or shrine. There are various types of omamori, ranging from wishes for health and longevity to relationships and love. 

11. Furoshiki Cloth

Get a furoshiki as a souvenir for your friends! They’re cheap, convenient and light to bring back home. This is a large cloth to wrap around items so you can carry them around. Oftentimes it’s used to wrap bento boxes. I used mine as a nice tabletop for my side table back home, and it got so many compliments!

12. Noren Curtains

Whether it’s for yourself or for others, noren curtains make the perfect souvenir! This is a curtain-like fabric that splits into two and is hung in front of entrances of stores. You can use it in your home as room dividers, at your home entrance, or even as curtains if you wish!

13. Bento Box

If you know a friend who likes to bring home cooked lunches to school or work, why not get them a bento box as a souvenir? This is perfect, because bento boxes can vary in prices too. You can definitely get affordable ones even at 100 yen shops, or you can go to bento craft shops where they are handmade from exceptional materials.

Traditional Toys

14. Kendama

Get some toys for souvenirs! The best one to get is the kendama, which is played using a ball that’s attached to a stick with a rope. You have to catch the ball in cups before spearing it with the point of the stick!

15. Beigoma

Another game you can get as a souvenir is a beigoma, which is just 3cm in diameter. It’s played by spinning, done by wrapping a 60cm cord around it then releasing the cord to spin on the surface. The aim of the game is to knock off another beigoma! So you’ve got to get two!

Get your perfect souvenir!

I bet, with this list, you’re never going to be unsure about what to get as a souvenir from Japan ever again! There are so many to choose from for various types of people, so go get shopping!

All you need to know to have a great trip to Japan!

All you need to know to have a great trip to Japan!

Japan is one of the most popular destinations for travel. There’s no doubt about that one bit. Most dream about going on wild adventures in the land of anime and sushi. It’s on a lot of our travel bucket lists!

After you’ve purchased your flight tickets and blocked out the dates in your calendar, there’s still lots to do even before getting on your flight. In fact, the planning is the most crucial part of it all. Your research can determine how amazing your trip can be.

But even researching can be exhausting because you have to filter out tons of information online. So don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’re going to give you a few tips on how to prepare for your trip and the top places to visit! This is your one-stop guide to the best way to travel Japan!

Preparing Your Trip

So how does one prepare for a trip to Japan? It’s simple really, with our guide especially. Japan is full of  spectacular sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You don’t want to miss out on any just because you didn’t do your research, do you? Here are some of the ways to get ahead with preparing for your Japan trip!

1. Plan, Plan, Plan!

I know some of us are good at winging it, but it’s always great to plan. For Japan, it’s good to look into what each city has to offer and schedule your days accordingly. 

Transport is a crucial point to take note of. Going to other cities and around generally via public transportation can be a bump in the road if you don’t plan. Timings can be off and you might find yourself stranded in the countryside with no way to get home!

2. Have Extra Cash in Hand

Japan isn’t as credit card-friendly as you might think. Bigger stores might accept them but good ol’ traditional shops by the streets won’t. So because of that, bring extra cash. Whether it’s your home currency or exchanged into yen, just make sure you have them.

If you’re bringing extra cash from your home country, think of the exchange rates. Depending on which country you’re coming from, it might be better to do that in your home country than in Japan. You might be able to save a few bucks. 

You can also consider taking money out in ATMs in Japan. Konbini ones accept international credit cards for withdrawal. However, the exchange rates might not be pleasant… But hey, at least you have cash! 

3. Get A Pocket WiFi or Travel SIM

Plan to get a pocket WiFi or travel SIM card. WiFi may not be available all throughout the country. If you’re planning to go to various cities, especially countryside ones, you might have a tough time going around without one.

In cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, you probably can get around with just WiFi. Some restaurants and shopping malls also offer them for free but they are super slow. 

Cities can get surprisingly massive and you might find yourself constantly lost. Google Maps will be your best friend during your trip. It’s also greatly accurate for planning transport routes! 

Must-Visit Stops in Japan

Planning includes where you want to go. Japan is a huge country, so you’ve got to decide which cities you should stop by. There are so many to choose from, but we’ve shortlisted the top three to start you off, especially if it’s your first time in Japan!

1. Tokyo

Who hasn’t heard of Tokyo? The capital city is one of the most famous cities in the whole world! Movies feature it and the neon lights are strangers to no one. They say that a month’s worth of travel wouldn’t be able to cover a third of what this city has to offer.

But we’ve got to start somewhere. The Shibuya Scramble Square is one of the top stops on the list for sure. It’s super busy but the best place to get everything you ever need! Food, drinks, shopping – you name it! 

Don’t miss out on visiting the Tokyo Tower and its area. Not only will you be able to see the city from a high point view but you’ll be able to stroll leisurely on the streets full of cafes and gardens. 

2. Kamakura

This city is just about an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo. Kamakura isn’t as busy as Tokyo even though it’s close. That makes it the perfect day trip to escape the bustles. The peace and serenity will be the first few things that hit you as soon as you arrive here. Locals and foreigners alike travel down to Kamakura for a change of pace.

The big Buddha statue known as the Kamakura Daibutsu is the highlight of the city. This can be found in the Buddhist temple, Kotoku-in. 

An area you have to visit is the one near the Hasedera temple. Its streets are extremely vibrant. Tons of cafes and restaurants are brimming with energy. This is also the perfect place for souvenir shopping! 

3. Kyoto

What’s a trip to Japan without a stop by the ancient capital city of Japan? Kyoto strips back down to the roots and tradition of Japanese culture. Every street screams history and culture, and you’ll be able to see geishas casually wandering around!

Arashiyama is a spot you have to see for yourself. The highlight here is the bamboo forest sheltering a few local temples. You might even see some monkeys for yourself! 

Walk down the infinite gates of the Shinto shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha. The gates run for 4 kilometers long! You don’t have to go all the way up, but if you do, set aside about two hours for a leisurely climb up. There are great sunset viewing spots up there!

Get ready for Japan!

Are you ready to explore Japan? There’s so much more to explore in Japan, but if we list them all, we’ll be here the whole day. Use our tips and planning guide to help you plan your next Japan trip! 

7 Weird Gachapons in Japan!

7 Weird Gachapons in Japan!

Capsule toys in Japan are great for unique, fun and cheap souvenirs to bring back. In Japanese, these capsule machines are called gachapon (ガチャポン). You can get capsule toys of all varieties here in the Land of the Rising Sun!

At the normal end of the spectrum, you’ll be able to get keychains, cartoon figurines and magnets from these capsule toy machines. We’re not here to talk about that. We’re looking at the other end of the spectrum. The not-so-normal one. Some would say they’re even weird!

Because there are so many types of gachapon, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find weirder ones on a random street in Japan. But for now, here’s a list of the top 7 commonly weird gachapon toys you can find in Japan!

1. Fuchico on the Cup

The first one is Fuchico on the Cup! This iconic gachapon series started in 2012. It’s not your usual keychain or fridge magnet. This one can interact with your day-to-day life…by sitting at the edge of your cup.

A manga artist called Katsuki Tanaka designed this tiny office lady character after noticing lots of food pictures on social media. To him, those pictures were boring, and wanted to make it more interesting. And so, Fuchico was born, to sit at the edge of cups!

Those who weren’t into gachapon became into it after this release. To this day, this gachapon series has sold millions! She comes in various designs, and some people even collect them!

2. Fake food

Who doesn’t like food? Well, put it on a keychain and people go crazy! Of course, they’re not real. They’re fake food! Fake food gachapon is extremely popular. You can get anything from fake sushi and fake ramen to fake croissants and fake cakes. 

They’re 100% fake, but they look so real that you might think it is! 

Recently as well, fake fruits and desserts are getting so popular. But they all fall under the same category of fake food. This type of gachapon can range from as low as 100yen to 300yen! Sometimes, you would have to try a few times in a machine to get the one you want, so make sure you have enough coins on you!

3. Bottle panties

I have to say this is the weirdest one yet, but hey, weird things become a hit. Just like how vending machines sell disposable panties, gachapons have panties too, but for your bottle!

Now, here me out. No dirty thinking. It’s just an accessory you can put at the bottom of your water bottle. It’s like a coaster substitute since they’re super absorbent. These bottle panties come in a variety of colours and patterns, so you can go on a hunt to collect them all. Dress up all your bottles!

4. Themed Animals

Animals are the cutest, aren’t they? You can easily find animal keychains in gachapons, but what we’re talking about here are themed animals! You can get pugs handing off the edge of your glass or bowl, or cats sleeping in a bookshelf. Think of any random situation and you might just get an animal gachapon in that theme. 

One common collective is office working animals. Yep, you read that right. Animals are holding props like reading the newspaper, working on their laptop and drinking morning coffee. Some people collect these office-working animals and set up a mini office!

5. Mini games

My personal favourite weird but fun gachapon item is mini games! You can find a lot of games in miniature size! That crocodile teeth game? I have a few colours of them at home. Remember that game where you have to stick knives in a barrel and a pirate will pop out? Yup, they have those too.

These miniature games are so handy and convenient when you’re travelling. When you have time to spare waiting for your flight or train, you can whip this out and play with your friends and family. 

6. Miniature furniture

Speaking of miniature, one of the most intriguing gachapons I’ve ever seen is miniature furniture! You can find any piece of furniture in mini size! From tables and chairs to lamps and teapots! 

I heard that people collect these pieces to create a miniature home. It’s like building your dream home but in miniature form. Think of it as Lego for adults…I mean, kids can do it too!

7. Mannequins

Last but not least of weird gachapons is mannequins. One of the newest gachapon creations is by Tokyo-based capsule toy maker So-Ta. Mannequins of various poses are sold in small capsules called “Nude”. There are six poses altogether. With each one of them, you can freely change the poses as the mannequin is made up of multiple ball joints.

There are three colours available: black, white and “stripe” where it’s mainly white with blue accents outlined in red . 

While it might be a weird idea in the first place, it can be used for artists who need a physical representation of a human pose, but can’t afford to purchase the big ones. 

Which weird gachapon do you want to buy?

I have to admit, all of these seven weird gachapons caught my attention. So they did their job well! When playing around with gachapons, don’t limit yourself to the normal and boring. Go out of your comfort zone and find fun and quirky ones like these!

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

If you’re excited to plan your next trip to Japan (and who isn’t dreaming of visiting once visitors are allowed again?) then japan-guide.com should be an integral part of your planning process. This site is an amazing resource for those hoping to visit Japan. Use the interactive map on their homepage to see some of the most popular locations Japan has to offer. Once you click on your desired destination, you will be taken to a page filled with information on the topic. From there, you will find out about the culture and history of your destination. You will also learn the most popular activities, transportation methods, and more! What else could a traveler need to plan the best trip ever?

We’ve compiled a list of five popular destinations in Japan and used the resources in Japan Guide to learn more about them!

Japan Guide’s Interactive Map

5. Sapporo

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Sapporo is known for its beer, winter activities, and ramen–which was created in Hokkaido! The top rated activity in Sapporo, according to Japan Guide, is the Sapporo Snow Festival or さっぽろ雪まつり (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). Japan Guide also has a great feature that tells you which activities are most recommended using a point system, and Sapporo’s Snow Festival made the list!

Japan Guide’s Point System

The Snow Festival is held annually for one week in February. Its main site is located at the Odori Site, which Japan Guide helpfully links information to. It also gives a history of the Snow Festival and information on Sapporo.

Like many other matsuri (Japanese festivals), the Snow Festival has delicious food. Hokkaido is well known for its seafood, especially crab, so its most popular matsuri food is crab miso soup. Cooked potatoes, takoyaki, and ramen are also common. These treats keep festival-goers warm during the cold Hokkaido winters.

In Japanese etiquette, it is frowned upon to eat while walking in public. Matsuri are an exception to this rule. You will often see people walking through the festival while enjoying a warm snack. Even so, miso soup or ramen may be difficult to enjoy while walking. You will find many places at the Snow Festival to stop, eat, and marvel at the amazing snow sculptures!

4. Osaka

Next, I used Japan-Guide’s interactive map to “travel” to Osaka and learn more about the beautiful city! Japan Guide has a helpful tool that will list the area’s highest rated activities. Osaka’s top attractions are the Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios– I didn’t know this existed! It’s so great to explore the destination you are interested in and learn more about them too!

One of Osaka’s most iconic landmarks is the Osaka Castle. Through Japan Guide I was able to learn the history of the castle and what it is like to visit today. There are even ticket prices listed and recommendations for cherry blossom season! The castle–like much of Japan–becomes very popular and crowded during cherry blossom season. Remember to be respectful of others and to stand in an orderly queue as you wait to enter. Orderly lines are very important in Japanese etiquette. They show respect, patience, and organization.

If you plan to be around the castle for the cherry blossom season, you will want more than just a day trip to Osaka! Japan Guide can help you out. You can easily find recommended hotels listed on the site. If you plan to stay long, use Japan Guide’s feature to find nearby day trips to make sure your visit never has a dull moment!

And if you are visiting Japan to witness the cherry blossoms, Japan Guide has you covered there too! You can search destinations by season, and specifically find cherry blossom related activities!

3. Kyoto

According to Japan Guide’s rating system, Kyoto rates as one of the “Bests of Japan!” Also rated as one of the “Bests” is the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is the famous Shinto shrine made from thousands of 鳥居 (torii) gates which line the pathways. It’s not surprising that this destination is so highly recommended. It is beautiful and lets visitors truly immerse themselves in Japanese culture.

There is plenty of etiquette to follow when visiting a shrine like the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Most shrines, like Fushimi Inari, have a water basin outside where visitors should wash each hand. It is also common etiquette to bow before entering the shrine to show your respect.

If you have any questions about visiting the shrine or anything related to your trip to Japan, you will find a list of common questions on the side of Japan Guide’s pages. They also have a very helpful forum where you may go to ask your specific questions.

2. Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, known as Fuji-san in Japan, is also rated one of the best destinations in Japan. In fact, it is within the top 25 most visited locations! Hiking and climbing are very popular activities in Japan. This is due to the country’s mountainous terrain. Many visitors flock to Mount Fuji just for that! That is what the mountain is known for–but it definitely isn’t the only thing you can do there! You can learn more with the commentated animation Japan Guide provides on what to do near or on Mount Fuji and what to expect! You can find equally helpful videos for most of their destinations!

If you do enjoy the outdoors, you can search Japan Guide for similar activities to add to your itinerary. Go to Interests on the top header and you can find outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, hot springs, nature walks, and more in Japan! You can also search for other interests like history, art, food, and entertainment!

  1. Tokyo

Japan Guide’s number one most visited destination is, unsurprisingly, Tokyo! Who doesn’t want to visit the bustling capital of Japan? By filtering Japan Guide’s most popular destinations, I found that the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts are Tokyo’s most visited locations. There is so much to see and do in Tokyo, it may be hard to narrow it down. Luckily, Japan Guide makes it easy. You can find local events, or even search by your interests!

Tokyo, like many cities, can be daunting when it comes to getting around and not getting lost. With Japan Guide, you can learn about how to get to and from airports, which trains to take, and how to get passes. They also provide helpful links and resources too. Just make sure you know public and travel etiquette in Japan! Check out our recent post on Japanese etiquette for train travel!

We’re sure you are now even more excited to plan your next Japan trip. Japan Guide is an invaluable resource that will guide you along every step of your journey. From finding destinations that fit your interests, to researching destinations, even helping you book hotels and find transportation. On top of all that, they can even help you prepare for traveling abroad! Traveling to Japan has never been easier–or more exciting!

What to Do in Japan in Fall: Top 10 Amazing Autumn Activities

What to Do in Japan in Fall: Top 10 Amazing Autumn Activities

Fall is one of the best seasons in Japan to travel around the country. Even the locals take time off to witness the leaves change colours to a mix of red, orange and yellow. Not to mention the various autumn festivals happening nationwide. There’s quite a lot to do and see in Japan in the autumn season. Trying to cram all of them into one trip is more of a problem than not having anything to do.

Instead of packing your schedule with too many activities, we’re going to highlight the 10 best things to do in Japan in the fall.

1. Enjoy the autumn foliage

The most popular activity in Japan during the autumn season is enjoying the autumn foliage, known as kouyou (紅葉) in Japanese. Locals and tourists alike take day trips to witness the vibrant leaves. Travellers go north and south for the best views. The most popular destinations include Kyoto and Nikko. Kyoto is just a half an hour’s train ride away from Osaka; Nikko is an hour and a half away from the capital city Tokyo by train.

Even if you don’t have the time to travel to these cities, the entire country is full of autumn-vibrant trees. Parks and gardens in Tokyo and Osaka are just as magnificent as any other.

2. Feast in autumn season cuisine

Credit: Raita Futo on Flickr Creative Commons

The weather is not the only thing that changes with the seasons in Japan. The Japanese love their seasonal dishes. Take this opportunity to feast in autumn seasonal cuisine. The most popular autumn dish is anything to do with Japanese sweet potato. This vegetable is known for its high nutritional value and rich flavours. You’ll likely find them roasted, known as “yakiimo” (焼き芋) in Japanese. They’re sold everywhere from street stalls to travel vans.

Autumn is also the best time to savour wagashi (和菓子), Japanese sweets. During the fall, you’ll get flavours of apple, permission, chestnut and, of course, sweet potato.

3. Visit fall festivals

Credit: Adrian on Flickr Creative Commons

If you don’t already know yet, Japan is full of festivities all year round. Most say that summer is the best season for festivals, but autumn has its fair share of exciting and thrilling neighbourhood events. Fall festivals (aki matsuri, 秋祭り) are mostly entertaining deities with dance and music. This is a way of thanking them for a successful harvest.
In Osaka Prefecture, one of the most famous festivals is called the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival. This is one of the more classic ones and historically practised as a prayer for a successful harvest.

4. Celebrate Halloween the Japanese way

Credit: Big Ben in Japan on Flickr Creative Commons

For some of us, the biggest event in fall is Halloween. If you happen to find yourself in Japan during the time, don’t expect to celebrate this holiday the way you would in Western countries. Japan has their own unique way of celebrating this fun event.

You could definitely spend Halloween at theme parks like Disneyland, DisneySea and Universal Studios Japan. In October, these theme parks go through a makeover that includes the likes of pumpkins and spider webs.
But the best event you wouldn’t want to miss out on is on Halloween day itself at Tokyo’s Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Hundreds and thousands of people dress up and gather in this area. A similar but smaller-scale version happens at Osaka’s Amemura neighbourhood.

5. Drink up at Oktober Fest

Credit: kinpi3 on Flickr Creative Commons

If Halloween isn’t the first event that pops in your mind for October, then it definitely has to be Oktober Fest. Japan also celebrates this event in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama. The most popular one is at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, where the event Yokohama Oktoberfest runs for almost the whole month of October.

From musical performances and other events to European snacks and a few pints of German beer, it’s almost like you’re not in Japan anymore.

6. Admire Kochia scrubs

Credit: Reginal Pentinio on Flickr Creative Commons

A unique plant called “kochia” changes colour throughout the year. In fall, it transforms into a reddish-pink. This is a sight you don’t want to miss. If you find yourself in Ibaraki Prefecture, drop by Hitachi Seaside Park where there are hills of these scrubs. Definitely worth a visit and take a picture or two for the gram.

7. Stroll through pampas grass

Credit: peaceful-jp-scenery on Flickr Creative Commons

Another nature spot to explore in the fall in Japan is the Sengokuhara area in Hakone. Hakone is just two hours away from the capital city Tokyo, making it the ideal location for a day trip.

During this time of the year, you’ll get to stroll through fields of tall, pampas grass in Hakone. With the cleared path making it easy to navigate through, you’ll be able to peacefully admire nature’s beauty. This is a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo city.

8. Go hiking or trekking

Credit: oonnuuoo on Flickr Creative Commons

For those looking for a bit more of an adventure, autumn in Japan is the perfect time to go hiking or trekking. The weather cools down enough for pleasant outdoor activities. You don’t have to venture too far. Close to Tokyo, Mt. Takao is a popular choice for those looking to break a sweat. In fact, this is the most climbed mountain in the world! Not only will you get a workout in but you’ll also be able to see the autumn foliage of the mountain. Kill two birds with one stone!

9. Frolick in the cosmo fields

Credit: Alan Levine on Flickr Creative Commons

I’m a sucker for flowers, and if you are too, don’t miss out on Tokyo’s Showa Kinen Park. Here, you’ll be able to view cosmo flowers in full bloom. In fact, you’ll get to frolick in cosmo fields as big as 15,000 square meters! There’s even a festival for these blooms called the Cosmos Matsuri. Definitely drop by if you’re in town any time from mid-September to the end of October.

10. Gaze at the harvest moon

Credit: hn79 on Flickr Creative Commons

One of the highlights of fall in Japan is the annual tradition of moon viewing. Known as otsukimi (お月見) in Japanese, this hundreds-of-years-old event happens between the middle of September and the start of October. Family and friends gather to view the full moon while eating dango (団子). Some areas hold events like a moon-viewing event for people to celebrate this occasion together.

Which will you be doing first?

The list of activities to do in Japan in the fall can go on and on, but these 10 are a good start to get you off on the right foot. Japan’s a country that’s always full of things happening. Even if you don’t plan your trip specifically, you’ll definitely be able to wander the streets and come across an activity randomly. So, which activity will you be doing first in Japan during the autumn season?

Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

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

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

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

man drinking starbucks in front of a computer

Fantasy: After-work fun

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

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

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

Reality: Overtime work

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

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

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

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

People with umbrellas leaving a building

Fantasy: Individualism

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

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

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

Reality: Uniformity

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

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

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

People going up on an escalator

Fantasy: Culture enriching

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

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

Reality: Culture shock

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

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

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

Working Life in Japan

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