Should you use Anime To Learn Japanese? The Answer May Surprise You!

Should you use Anime To Learn Japanese? The Answer May Surprise You!

I love anime and I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this article, you at least have a passing interest in it as well. Learning to speak Japanese via any form of popular media can be quite daunting and challenging. However, it can also be very rewarding as you can learn some great new vocabulary from it as well as formal and informal uses of those same words.

That being said, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t use anime, manga, or any other form of pop culture as a strong basis for learning by itself but rather as a supplement to your regular learning habits. It should also be noted that viewers are encouraged to watch their pop culture actively complete with taking notes on new vocab words rather than passively since it won’t do you any good to only catch the gist of what the characters are actually saying.

Most of the anime on this list were chosen because they have simple sentences and words that are suitable for learners who aren’t as advanced in their studies yet. For that reason, I’m not guaranteeing that you’re going to find the titles on this list to be masterpieces of the medium.

While many experts feel that learning from pop culture should be reserved for intermediate learners, I know that there are plenty of you out there who are itching to jump right in and start learning from the media that you’re actively consuming anyway. With all, that out of the way here are some titles that you can watch right now to help you master Japanese!

© NHK

Bottom Biting Bug (Oshiri Kajiri Mushi – おしりかじり虫

Aimed at a MUCH younger audience, this series of shorts (each episode only lasts about 5 minutes) originally started airing in 2012 and features a young bottom biting bug who helps people feel better both physically and emotionally by — you guessed it — biting them on the bottom. This is going to give you very basic vocab and grammar lessons but don’t expect any significantly deep plots.

© Madhouse · Broccoli / Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat Production Committee

Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat (ぱにょぱにょ デ・ジ・キャラット)

Another series of shorts aimed at a younger audience (though not quite as young as the first entry on this list), this adorable series first started airing in 2002 and ran for 48 episodes. Featuring very easy to understand plots, this is a good series to watch so long as you remember that Dejiko and her friends don’t always speak normal, everyday Japanese.

© Pierrot – Aloha Higa

Polar Bear Cafe (Shirokuma Cafe – しろくまカフェ)

The first entry on this list that isn’t a short but rather made up of full-length episodes, this 50 episode series first aired in 2012. What makes this series so good to watch isn’t just that the characters are adorable and stories are simple but the puns! Every so often, Polar Bear will break out a string of Japanese puns which are not only hilarious but also great for picking up new vocab that comes complete with visual cues.

© Madhouse – Kanata Konami

Chi’s Sweet Home (チーズスイートホーム)

A cute seinen (a genre aimed at adult men) series about a kitty cat? Sign me up! First appearing in anime form back in 2008, this title features many short sentences that are easy to pick up on so even beginner Japanese learners should be able to pick up valuable new words from this series.

© Doga Koba – Takayuki Mizushina

Lovely Muuuuuuuco! (ラブリームービー いとしのムーコ)

Not a cat person? Got you covered! This series is all about an adorable pet dog named Muco. Originally airing in 2013, this anime is similar to Chi’s Sweet Home in that it has a lot of simple, short dialogue.

© Nippon Animation – Momoko Sakura

Chibi Maruko-chan (ちびまる子ちゃん)

This slice of life comedy series has been running almost solidly since 1990! A family series, it follows the daily life of elementary school student Maruko-chan. Conversational Japanese is what you’re going to get from this series the most so be sure to jot down those notes with this one.

© SILVER LINK – Atto

Non Non Biyori (のんのんびより)

Another relaxing slice of life series from recent history (it first started airing in 2013), this is a series that has become pretty popular among fans of the genre. Featuring a group of young girls of various ages who live far out in the country, this is another series to pick up light-hearted conversational Japanese.

©Toei Animation – Izumi Todo

Pretty Cure (Futari wa PreCure – ふたりはプリキュア)

No list is ever complete without at least one mahou shoujo (magical girl) series and this is one of the most popular in Japan! First airing in 2004, this series has spawned literally over a dozen sequels and movies. Aimed at young girls (though it’s famous for appealing to older fans as well), this might not provide you with tons of useful new vocabulary words (unless you plan on moving to Japan to become a crime-fighting magical girl. No judgment.) this is still a good series to pick up some basic conversation skills.

There you go, learners! Eight titles that you can go forth right now and check out for yourselves! Have a fantastic rest of your month everyone and join me again next month when I reveal even more anime titles that you can use to supplement your studies.

Learn Japanese Now! Here are 7 Awesome Reasons.

Learn Japanese Now! Here are 7 Awesome Reasons.

Have you ever found yourself wanting to learn Japanese? You’re not alone. By learning a new language you can also get a glimpse at the culture behind the language. Without the ability to communicate, you can never understand a culture on its own terms. Discovering and learning about Japanese language and culture is easier now than ever thanks to Nihongo Master. Learning a new language is a logical step to expand our own horizons. There are lots of reasons to learn Japanese. Let’s find out why.

(more…)
Have You Ever… ことがある? (Podcast Recap! S2E2)

Have You Ever… ことがある? (Podcast Recap! S2E2)

Our second season’s second episode of the Nihongo Master Podcast introduces a language series in the mix: Study Saturday! In this series, we bring you a new grammar episode every Saturday — bite-sized and full of vocabulary words. They’re going to be very similar to the lessons Nihongo Master offers, so if you realise you love Study Saturday, you’ll love our interactive online learning system.

The series episode flow goes like this: grammar point, roleplaying scenarios, vocab recap.

And for our very first episode, we looked at one I personally use every day: Have you ever…? Like… Have you ever needed to ask someone if they had ever done something? Or tell someone that you have or have never done something before? Yes? Exactly! 

If you missed that episode, go check it out! Here’s a recap of what we covered in that episode, along with a list of vocabulary words that we used.

Have You Ever…ことがある?

Before we get to playing “Never Have I Ever”, we gotta know how to ask the basic question: Have you ever…?

To ask this question in Japanese, all you have to do is add “koto ga aru” (ことがある) / “koto ga arimasuka?” (ことがありますか) to the casual past tense of any verb.

We looked at this example: “Have you ever been to Europe?” 

For this question, we’ll use the verb for “to go” which is iku (行く), then change it to the casual past tense: itta (行った). Then, just add the phrase we mentioned before to make “itta koto ga aru” (行ったことがある) / “itta koto ga arimasuka” (行ったことがありますか). So when you have the subject and put it all together, you get: “yoroppa ni itta koto ga aru?” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがある?) / “yoroppa ni itta koto ga arimasuka?” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがありますか?)

In the episode, we gave a few more examples — check it out for more clarity.

We also looked at how to reply. There are two ways to go about this kind of question: “Yes, I have…” or “No, I haven’t…” While you could get away with a simple “hai” or “iie”, but why not up your game a bit? 

To say you’ve done something, the formula is pretty much the exact same as the question. Reply the example question with “yuroppa ni itta koto ga aru” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがある) / “yuroppa ni itta koto ga arimasu” (ヨーロッパに行ったのとがあります). As simple as ABC! Or, you could even cut it short to “itta koto ga aru” (行ったことがある) / “itta koto ga arimasu” (行ったのとがあります) — leaving out the subject. 

For the negative reply “No I haven’t…”, we gotta make a slight change to the ending — aru (ある) has to be in its negative form, which is nai (ない) or arimasen (ありません). So then it becomes: “yuroppa ni itta koto ga nai” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがない) / “yuroppa ni itta koto ga arimasen” (ヨーロッパに行ったのとがありません). Similarly, you can cut it short by leaving out the subject:  “itta koto ga nai” (行ったことがない) / “itta koto ga arimasen” (行ったのとがありません).

In short, the formula to ask “Have you ever…” is: 

subject + particle  + verb in the casual past tense + koto ga aru/arimasuka (ことがある/ことがありますか).

And for the answer of “I have/have never…”, it’s the same with a slight difference at the end: 

subject + particle + verb in the casual past tense + koto ga aru/koto ga arimasu (ことがある/ことがあります) for positive; koto ga nai/koto ga arimasen (ことがないことがありません) for negative.

For the full explanation with everyday examples, head over to Spotify or Apple Podcasts — we even have a few roleplaying scenarios using this grammar language a few times!

Vocab Recap

Just like our previous episodes, we wrapped it up with a vocab recap for all the Japanese words we used. Here’s a compiled list of it:

Kouhai (後輩) — people of lower status

Tomodachi (友達) — friend

Senpai (先輩) — people of higher status

Kazoku (家族) — family

Iku (行く) — to go

Yoroppa (ヨーロッパ) — Europe

Taberu (食べる) — to eat

Kankoku (韓国) — South Korea

Ryouri (料理) — cuisine

Kohi (コーヒー) — coffee

Koucha (紅茶) — black tea

Nomu (飲む) — to drink

Nominomo (飲み物) — drink

Tabemono (食べ物) — food

Ichiban suki (一番好き) — literally translates to number one like, but it actually means favourite

Igai (以外) — with the exception of, or except

Suki (好き) — like

Daisuki (大好き) — love

Meccha (めっちゃ) — a casual way to say really

Chuugoku (中国) — China

Ippai (いっぱい) — a lot

Onaka tsuita (お腹ついた) — to be hungry

hyaku pacento (百パーセント) — 100% 

Eigo (英語) – English language

Jetto kosuta (ジェットコスタ) — roller coaster

Noru (乗る) — to ride

Muri (無理) — impossible

Kowasou (怖そう) — looks scary

 Hitori de (一人で) — alone

Uso (うそ) — a lie

Tanoshii (楽しい) — fun

Issho ni (一緒に) — together

Ikou (行こう) — let’s go. It comes from the word “iku”

Shiata (シアター) — theatre

Pafomansu (パフォマンス) — performance

Miru (見る) — to see or to watch

Majikku (マジック) — magic tricks. you can also call it tejina

Omoshirosou (面白そう) — looks interesting

Chotto (ちょっと) — a bit, but it can also mean “wait”

Tanomu (頼む) — please

Tabun (多分) — maybe

Yakusoku (約束) — promise

And that’s the recap of our very first episode of our language series, Study Saturday. If this recap has been useful to you, perfect! You’ll love the Study Saturday podcast series — so pop open your preferred streaming app and give Nihongo Master Podcast a listen!

Tsunamis in Japan: Why They Happen & What To Do

Tsunamis in Japan: Why They Happen & What To Do

I come from Singapore — it’s so peaceful and quiet when it comes to natural disasters. Boy, was I in for a treat when I moved to Japan, where these dramatic forces of nature are the norm. Here, there are days where the people in it are overwhelmed by feelings of fear and distress instead of exhilaration and euphoria. The ones that bring those emotions out are frequent natural disasters including tsunamis, disrupting daily lives and even tragically take some away. 

Japan is not randomly chosen nor volunteered to be acquainted with these sizeable waves. There’s something that makes this island nation different from others to be on the recurring receiving end of such natural forces. 

In this article, we’ll look at Japan’s tragic relationship with tsunamis, why tsunamis are so frequent in Japan, and what to do when you’re at risk of a tsunami strike — regardless of whether you’re in Japan or not.

Japan’s Tsunami History

Source: yisris from Flickr

Japan and tsunami aren’t new to each other — they have quite a history, unfortunately. Since 684, there have been a total of 141 waves that are classified as a tsunami — with a total of about 130,000 deaths total. 

Back in 1741 was the strongest tsunami ever recorded. This huge wave was caused by a volcano north of Hokkaido Island with a magnitude of 6.9, reaching a height of 90 meters and taking 1,607 lives along with it. While it may be the biggest one, it wasn’t the one that took the most number of lives — that’s the one in 1498 with an earthquake of 8.3 magnitudes that caused a tsunami of 10 meters and killed 31,201 people.

Even with those two, the one that really affected Japan was the tsunami in 2011, where agriculture, development and the economy were seriously damaged. On March 11 of that year, an earthquake of 9.1 magnitudes unleashed a tsunami of 55 meters tall in Japan. Can you imagine how big this tsunami must have been to reach 11 further countries! There was a total of 15,894 deaths in Japan and thousands more in other countries.

The damages the tsunami caused added up to USD$235 billion, the costliest natural disaster in world history!

Reasons Why Japan Have Frequent Tsunamis

Do you know what people say about being in the right place at the right time? Well, Japan is located in the wrong place…all the time. This island nation is along the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, which is an imaginary horseshoe-shaped zone that is on the rim of the Pacific Ocean. On this ring, you’ll get the most activity for earthquakes and volcano eruptions. 

To make matters worse, Japan is smacked on top of four shifting pieces of Earth’s crust known as the tectonic plates that mash and collide. 

Because of these two factors, Japan has about 1,500 earthquakes every year even though some of them don’t go any bigger than 3.9 magnitudes.

How Are Tsunamis Created?

So how exactly are tsunamis created? These huge, tall waves need some serious energy to be so big.

Normal waves are formed when energy passes through the water, and that causes it to move in a circular motion. One way waves are formed is by the wind when there’s friction on the surface of the water and causing a continual disturbance, resulting in surface waves. Another type is the tidal wave that is made by the gravitational forces of the sun, moon and earth.  

Tsunami waves are not formed by surface or tidal waves — they are created when there are huge disruptions, including but not limited to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides that occur under the sea. When this happens, large volumes of water move together at full depth at a speed you didn’t think water could.

The water then absorbs the energy of these disturbances, then they travel inland with the constantly piled of large volumes of water. By the time it reaches the shore, can you imagine how big the waves can be? 

The drawback, referring to the water from the shoreline receding, is one of the warning signs that a tsunami is approaching the shoreline. Just because it’s a warning doesn’t mean you have a lot of time — it can be a few seconds to a few minutes before the full tsunami moves inshore.

Tsunami Warning Categories in Japan

Because Japan is so prone to tsunamis, they have set up measures in case one does happen. There are three warning categories that are exclusively for a tsunami, and each one has actions to take based on the height of the tsunami.

The first category is the Tsunami Advisory, where the tsunami is expected to be up to only 1 meter in height. When this warning is issued, anyone who is exposed offshore may be caught in strong currents into the sea. Fish farming facilities as well as small vessels like boats may be washed away or capsized.

The second category is the Tsunami Warning, with the expected height of 1 meter to 3 meters of the tsunami. The tsunami waves for this kind are expected to hit hard, so low-lying areas will be damaged and buildings will be flooded. People are advised to evacuate the coastal as well as river areas to higher ground or a tsunami evacuation buildings — those who are exposed will be caught in the strong currents.

The third and last category is for tsunami waves over the height of 3 meters: Major Tsunami Warning. This warning is for a type of tsunami that is expected to completely destroy wooden structures, deeming it to be extremely strong. Similarly, people are strongly advised to evacuate coastal areas as well as river areas to higher ground or a tsunami evacuation building. 

Even though there are tsunami warning systems, they might not be issued early enough for evacuation — especially when it’s the Major Tsunami Warning since this is when the wave of the tsunami comes at extreme speeds inland.

What To Do If A Tsunami Strikes

Source: RachelH_from Flickr

Some of us may be lucky enough to be living in a country where tsunamis never happen — some others are not. Whether you’re living in a country prone to tsunamis or even just traveling to Japan, it’s best to know what to do if one does strike.

Do not panic

First and foremost: don’t panic. When we’re overwhelmed with such emotions, we won’t be thinking straight and end up making rash decisions. Keep calm and recall the procedures to take for a tsunami strike.

Keep in mind that tsunami waves can crash inland at unexpected times — even if you see it far out the sea, chances are they’re moving really fast. I know your first instinct is to take your belongings with you, but don’t panic pack — your life is the most precious thing, so leave as soon as you can!

Higher, not further

Our instincts would want us to go further, but instead of doing that, go higher up. Tsunami waves can reach heights of more than 10 meters and tsunami evacuation sites, usually not that high up either, can be dangerous places to be in this situation.

If you are seeking refuge at the evacuation site, that is still okay too. They’re made especially for that reason: to be a safe place in times like these. When you are at one, do not leave the site. A tsunami is not just one single wave but a series of them. The intervals between them can be seconds or even hours apart, so wait it out until the tsunami warnings are fully completed.

Rivers are threats, too

Don’t think that just because you’re not by the ocean, you’re safe. Rivers and other coastal areas are at risk too — floods are highly to happen as the waves can travel up to smaller streams. Seek refuge at higher ground or a tsunami evacuation site.

Conclusion

While it’s unfortunate that Japan has the highest threats for a tsunami, it’s unchangeable. What we can change is how we react to it to save our lives and the lives of others. Don’t let the proneness to natural disasters in Japan scare you off from visiting (or even living) in the country — this island nation is beautiful and peaceful, with tons of measures prepared and precautions taken to combat these natural disasters.

All You Need To Know About Japanese Coffee

All You Need To Know About Japanese Coffee

Introduction

Yes, I’m a coffee freak. I need my dose of espresso in the morning to set my mood for the day — whether it’s a shot on its own or mixed with a fresh cup of milk, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what kind of roast it’s made from; dark or light? 

If you’re a coffee enthusiast like me, you probably get what I mean. The first sip of that freshly brewed coffee just hits you. 

Wherever I go, I’m always on the hunt for exquisite coffee places for me to indulge in — so, of course, I found that Japan has one of the best coffee markets in the world! What a treat for me! In fact, Japan’s history with coffee goes deep and far back, with their very own version of the French cafe.

From that, the coffee hype expanded to so much more — canned and instant coffee are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a trip down memory lane of Japanese coffee as well as what and where you can get these exceptional coffee products!

Japan’s Coffee History 

Japan didn’t invent coffee, of course. How it did come to Japan is all thanks to the trade the Japanese have with the Dutch and Portuguese, and it was around the late 17th and early 18th centuries that coffee was introduced. However, the Japanese had long been a tea-drinking society, and coffee didn’t change that at all — in the beginning, at least.

You see, Japan’s relationship with coffee didn’t start off so well; the people didn’t like the “burnt” taste of coffee as much, and only the Dutch traders were drinking it. There was even a ban on coffee imports at one point! 

The turning point was when the first-ever coffee shop opened during the late 18th century — to provide a space for the younger generation to exchange knowledge, relax and enjoy a good ol’ cup of coffee. Many followed suit, complete with European-styled decor and furniture. This was also the beginning of the very complicated affair between drinking coffee and smoking tobacco.

World War II really affected the rise of coffee in Japan as it interrupted various trades and imports into Japan. It was quite dire — Japan’s coffee culture could’ve ended right there and there in the 1940s! But thankfully, the coffee boom did come after in the 1970s, where the demand for coffee was at its highest. 

The term “Jun-kissa” and “Kissaten” 

There is a very specific term in Japanese to refer to a coffee shop: kissaten (喫茶店). It was during the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926) where cafes became the go-to spots for good fun and lively atmosphere — sprinkled with coffee, smoke and alcohol. An opposite scene emerged: the laid-back, relaxed ambiance of the kissaten where the creatives like poets, writers and artists went to for a space to exchange ideas and sometimes even have an intellectual debate (I know for a fact I won’t be able to join in).

In the Showa Era (1926 – 1989), the term “jun-kissa” (純喫茶) was coined, and it referred to the genuine kind of chilled coffee places. The term “jun” means “pure” while “kissa” comes from “kissaten”. As the Japanese economy boomed to include Western influences, these kissaten and jun-kissa became even more influenced by the Western aesthetics of velvet seats and stained glass for interior decor.

With more and more of these coffee shops popping up around the country, mainly the capital city Tokyo, it just goes to show that the preference for coffee by the time was obvious — bye-bye to the tea leaves, hello to roasted beans.

Japanese Coffee Products 

Since then, Japan has imported and invented coffee products for the masses. I, myself, have noticed how easy and convenient it is to grab a coffee fix around Japan — because it’s everywhere, in all forms! 

Let’s look at the top three kinds of coffee products that are the most popular in Japan.

Specialty Coffee 

I’m a cafe-hopper, but more specifically I’m a coffee shop-hopper. So I personally know that Japan has quite an extensive range of specialty coffee shops. At these places, coffee is made from the highest grade of beans, grounded with the best machines.

Coffee beans in Japan are usually imported from the best coffee-growing countries in the world including Kenya, Rwanda, Guatemala and Indonesia. 

Best of all, these specialty coffee shops in Japan offer various preparation methods like AeroPress, French press and pour over — some shops are so exclusive to a specific preparation method that they only offer that kind of coffee! Mad, right?

Canned Coffee 

If you haven’t read the article about Japan’s vending machine craze, go check it out. As I’ve mentioned there, everything you can ever think of can be found in a vending machine — why not coffee?

For this very purpose, canned coffee is invented, in Japan itself! An innovative man called Ueshima Tadao birthed the wonderful product that is canned coffee in 1968, and now it’s distributed in not only Japan but international countries as well! 

Instant Coffee 

While the Japanese didn’t invent instant coffee like they did canned coffee, it is still one of the most consumed coffee products in the country! I mean, it’s quite convenient for the fast-paced, busy lifestyles of salarymen who spend all their daylight and most of their nighttime in the office — a quick coffee fix using instant coffee is the way to go. 

One of the most common types of instant coffee comes in those convenient individually packed ones where a sachet is a serving — I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty as charged for having some of those at home for when I need a quick coffee fix but too lazy to brew one myself.

Top Japanese Cities For Coffee

So, where are the best places to go to get the best coffee Japan has to offer? I believe that the low-key, underground ones are the hidden gems — especially the local stand around the corner where you walked down randomly and discovered. 

But for those who are actively seeking, there are two top cities that are perfect for your coffee adventures!

Tokyo 

Of course, the capital city of Japan has got to be the number one city to get the best coffee the country has to offer. No matter how many coffee shops I go to in Tokyo, I feel like there’s at least 20 more that I’ve yet to discover. 

One of the most famous coffee shops in Tokyo is The Roastery by Nozy Coffee in Harajuku. When I first went to this coffee shop, it only sold drip coffee — but I’ve heard it has expanded to include latte, americano and espresso. One thing’s for sure is that The Roastery has one of the best dark roast selection in the city, hands down.

Another good coffee place in Tokyo is Naka Meguro’s Onibus — a local favourite. This coffee shop has a more traditional vibe to it, and you can trust that the coffee is excellent — the owner himself was trained in Australia and put in a Japanese twist into what he learned.

Kyoto 

The other great city to explore Japanese coffee is Japan’s ancient capital city, Kyoto. My experience with Kyoto’s coffee scene is that a lot of the best ones are the ones you stumble upon, and most of the time it’s the old-school kissaten. You have to experience that at least once during your time in Japan!

But if you need a name to go to, % Arabica has been making waves in the scene. It attracted a huge crowd when it first opened in 2014 — so much that the owner had to open another branch in the same city the next year! Now, % Arabica has expanded to other countries, but try it in the city it originated at.

Basic Coffee-Related Words & Phrases

What’s a coffee guide without a few Japanese words and phrases to help you out on your coffee adventures? Here are some of the most commonly used ones, and a simple phrase you can use with it.

Trust me, ordering a cup of coffee isn’t that difficult!

コーヒー (kohi) — coffee (usually referring to drip coffee)

ラテ(rate) — latte

店内で (tennaide) — eat-in (literally translates to in-store)

持ち帰り / テイクアウト (mochikaeri/teikuauto) — takeout

砂糖 (satou) — sugar

シロップ (shiroppu) — syrup

ホット(hotto) — hot

アイス (aisu) — iced

少ない~ (sukunai ~) — less ~

もっと~ (motto ~) — more ~

The simplest phrase to order something is: 〜お願いします (~onegaishimasu). For example, to order a hot latte, say “ホットラテお願いします” (ホットラテお願いします)

To ask for more or less sugar in your drink, just use the words for “more” and “less”: “もっと / 少ない砂糖、お願いします” (motto/sukunai satou onegaishimasu).

Head over to our Nihongo Master Podcast to learn more about how you can use this phrase! 

Conclusion

And that sums up all you need to know about Japanese coffee origins, the types of coffee products Japan offers and where you can find all these excellent cups of coffee. Look out for a detailed list of best coffee shops in Tokyo and Kyoto respectively — coming soon to our Nihongo Master blog! See you then!

Essential Japanese Drama Keywords

Essential Japanese Drama Keywords

Introduction

Don’t lie — you love drama (ドラマ). I mean, everyone loves one specific drama at some point in their lives. For me personally, I’m into every kind of drama, so best believe that Japanese drama is one of them. In fact, Japanese drama was the reason I got into learning Japanese in the first place!

When I was starting out, there were a few Japanese words that struck out — especially the ones that you don’t really learn from the textbooks. These keywords stuck with me, because not only are they repetitive but they are also used pretty often in casual, daily conversations. 

Which brings me to writing this very article: to spread the love of these essential Japanese drama keywords — you can thank me later.

1. Mattaku (まったく)

The first one is something you’ll hear being said both on its own or in a sentence. Those two cases have different meanings. 

If “mattaku” (まったく) is being used as an exclamation or reaction, it has the nuance of a mild curse — kind of like when you say “jeez” under your breath at something your friend said. It’s used the exact same way; let’s say your friend and you agreed to meet at a certain time but she ended up being late, with a load of excuses to boot. Of course, your natural reaction would be shaking your head and letting out a small sigh — “mattaku” fits perfectly with all of that.

Another way of using “mattaku” is to emphasize something. If you want to say someone is not only wrong, but they’re completely wrong, then add “mattaku” before the verb: “mattaku machigatte iru yo!” (まったく間違っているよ!)

2. Mou ii (もういい)

This one also has two ways of using it — one a positive way, the other a negative or neutral way. The first way of using “mou ii” (もういい) is when you’re telling or describing something that is of sufficient level or suitable. For example, if your friend is pouring a cup of water for you and it’s about to reach the level you prefer, simply say “mou ii yo” (もういいよ) to her.

Another way to use this phrase is when you’ve had enough of something — kind of like saying “that’s enough” or “forget it”. Say your sister is annoying you with her whining and you just want to be done with it; use this remark “mou ii” to shut her up. I would do it to my sister, if only she speaks Japanese too.

3. Bikkurishita (びっくりした)

There’s no direct comparison to an English phrase for this one, but “bikkuri shita” (びっくりした) is used when you’re surprised or shocked by something. I guess in English we would have a reaction phrase like “oh my god!” or something of the like — maybe in Japanese, one would scream too. 

But the difference lies after the reaction; in English, it’s not really that common to say out the obvious like, “you scared me” or “I was surprised”, but in Japanese, it’s almost always natural to say “bikkuri shita” right after. While it does translate to “I was surprised”, it’s more of a matter-of-fact saying rather than letting the other person know what has happened. 

4. Jaa ne / mata ne (じゃあね / またね)

There’s more than one way to say goodbye in English — bye, see you, later, etc. So, it’s only fair that there’s also more than one way to say goodbye in Japanese. Two of the most common ones you’ll hear in Japanese drama are “jaa ne” (じゃあね) and “mata ne” (またね)

I mean, you could say “bai bai” (バイバイ) like the katakana version of a “bye bye”, but “jaa ne” and “mata ne” is kind of cooler, I’d say. It’s like “see you later!” — more casual and natural, less…structured?

5. Dame (ダメ)

One word you’ll hear quite often in dramas is “dame” (ダメ). The translation’s pretty simple: no. Well, it doesn’t exactly translate to “no” but it gives off a similar nuance. It’s kind of like saying something’s a no-go, or it’s not good, or you can’t do that. 

If you’re trying to walk down a prohibited path, expect a “dame dame!” from people around you. In my personal opinion, “dame” carries such a strict vibe that if I hear it, I feel like I’m being reprimanded — but it’s just my sensitive self talking, it’s not really like that! 

6. Yabai (やばい)

This one is where it can get quite confusing — the older generation has a different definition from the youngins, but both are correct. 

See, yabai (やばい) actually means “horrible” or “bad”, so the expression “yabai” implies that the thing you’re referring to is not good at all. That is how the older generation looks at this word — they’re not wrong, in fact, they’re technically right.

In the modern generation however, and also when used in dramas, the meaning is completely opposite. When someone exclaims “yabai”, more often than not, it implies that something is so cool! Kind of like when we say something is “the shit” — it’s not shit, it’s so good that it’s the shit.

7. Urusai (うるさい)

Need a phrase that can be a direct or indirect way to tell someone to shut up? “Urusai” (うるさい) is your guy — it translates to “noisy”, but you can use it to tell someone that they’re too noisy they need to tone it down.

If your friend is shouting too loudly in an izakaya while you’re having a few drinks, just say to him “urusai!” to be extremely direct that he needs to be quieter. If a group of people next to you is making a huge ruckus and you just want to say  “they’re noisy”, “urusai” also works for that without actually telling them they are.

8. Ossu (オッス)

You know how you can say bye a few different ways? You can say hello a few different ways too — in fact, if you want to know more ways of saying hello and bye, there are other articles where I’ve listed down the top ways to do so!

Anyway, the one you’ll hear among friends in dramas is “ossu” (オッス). It’s basically “hey” in the most casual way possible. Keep in mind that it’s actually a greeting used by the guys due to its more masculine tone. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard my male friends using them — it sounds cool.

9. Saitei (最低)

Some Japanese dramas are a little more dramatic than others, so you’ll hear them saying “you’re the best” and “you’re the worst” quite often. Even though in English it has quite a heavy tone to it, I guess it’s as bad in Japanese. “Saitei” (最低), which means “the worst” is mentioned quite a few times in the dramas I’ve watched.

So if someone did something horrible to you and it made you upset, I guess you could throw out “saitei” to them — I personally don’t recommend doing it, but it’s great to know especially when it’s always in the dramas.

10. Mukatsuku (ムカつく)

Our last drama keyword is another slang word, and it’s more often used among the younger generation and adults — not so much the oldies. While “mukatsuku” (ムカつく) has the meaning of “irritating” or “annoyed”, when someone tells you this, it’s basically implying that you’re annoying to that person — so I hope no one has said this to you before!

From the dramas that I’ve watched, “mukatsuku” is usually said under the breath, not so much face-to-face. I reckon you could still tell someone they’re irritating you with this phrase — just make sure it’s not your superior!

Conclusion

And that concludes the top 10 essential Japanese drama keywords that I personally have noticed popping up more than a few times in all of the dramas I’ve watched. All of them are extremely casual and sometimes some of them can be considered rude, so use it sparingly — or not at all if you’re too afraid to offend anyone. Regardless, it’s great to know them and make your drama time a lot more meaningful, literally!

Top 10 Japanese Musical Artists To Know

Top 10 Japanese Musical Artists To Know

Introduction

Most of us have that image of Japan as funky, out-of-the-ordinary and flat out wacky. Fair enough, the country has its fair share of unique subcultures, bizarre trends and unusually eccentric music.

But if you dig deeper, the Japanese music scene — while those standing-out-of-the-crowd ones dominating the media — is pretty diverse. There is something for everyone — from the popular J-pop and loud metalheads to the ones that are peaceful and calming for the soul. 

Japan’s music industry is huge, and having to shortlist to the top 10 was quite a painful process — picking from lists of popular as well as influential, new and old. Regardless, these Japanese musical artists are definitely ones you have to know, both familiar names and new ones. 

Let’s get right into it!

1. Utada Hikaru

First on the list is one that every Japanese person will know: Utada Hikaru. She has been on the Japanese music charts since 1997 — that’s over two decades! She’s not just on it; she basically rules it. 

This half-Japanese half-American artist’s music is on the slower-paced side that’ll tug on your heartstrings, but her music can be classified under a few categories — J-pop and R&B are just to name a few, so there’s a song for everyone

Utada Hikaru is a perfect artist for those looking to train their Japanese listening skills using music as she pronounces her lyrics clearly and slowly. Give First Love and Heart Station a listen — you’ll definitely be hooked…and maybe even in tears.

2. Shiina Ringo 

This is one of the Japanese artists you don’t want to miss out on. In fact, the West has already caught on to her musical talents. Shiina Ringo is an avant-pop queen — everything from her music and performance to her style and personality screams unusualness. You might think, “is her last name really ‘apple’ (りんご)?” Her real name is actually Shiina Yumiko but took on the stage name, Shiina Ringo, from a childhood nickname. 

Anyway, her music is not the usual ones you’d expect — there are influences from J-pop, enka (演歌) which is a genre of traditional Japanese music, jazz, rock…you name it, there’s probably a song with it. They all combine seamlessly together, though. That’s the best part.

That’s not all — Shiina Ringo’s performance hints at the traditional Japanese style. What a way to represent your own culture even after going international!

3. Perfume

If you’re looking for an artist that offers amazing techno-pop, Perfume is your girl — or girls. This girl group made waves in the Japanese music industry as soon as they first got onto the scene in 2008, and their popularity hasn’t wavered since. If you watch more than a few Japanese dramas and movies, chances are you’ve probably heard their music before.

Perfume is not only a big hit in Japan but also overseas — I mean, it’s quite obvious, what with their numerous international all-English fanbases. Even famous EDM DJs like Zedd and Madeon have acknowledged the group.

While their sound is nostalgic and refreshing at the same time, Perfume’s performances are definitely ones to keep an eye out for. There’s always something new in them, whether it’s an unconventional choreography or using new technology. 

4. ONE OK ROCK

Anyone who’s into rock and has looked into the rock scene in Japan definitely has heard of ONE OK ROCK. They’re kind of like the most essential Japanese rock artist. Influenced by bands like Nirvana and Good Charlotte, this high school-formed band entered the industry in 2005, and has continued creating milestones after milestones for the Japanese rock scene.

Since their exposure and opportunities to go international, ONE OK ROCK has been including more and more English lyrics to cater to their expanding audience — but don’t worry for those Japanese language enthusiasts, if you listen to their earlier ones, you’ll still get them in full Japanese. 

But hey, music has no boundaries — not even language, I dare say.

5. AKB48

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFf4AgBNR1E

A list of Japanese musical artists is not complete without one of the most famous and influential Japanese groups, AKB48. This group is not your average one where there’s only a handful of people — it actually has over a hundred people!

You heard me; as of this day of writing, AKB48 has 135 members — don’t let the number 48 in the group name fool you. It did start off with 48 members and expanded to include more, but their front members are ever-changing, joining in and coming out of the groups as fast as one could blink.

Those who have left actually become stars on their own, but not without grabbing a few loyal followers from being in the group. AKB48 is also great for anyone who’s looking to learn Japanese through music, as their song lyrics are repetitive and catchy.

6. Arashi

Of course, I have to include a Johnny’s group, and what better group than Arashi? We have an all-female group AKB48, so it’s only fair to have an all-male group on the list. This charming five-member collective has been around since 1999, and every generation in Japan would either be swooning over them or at least know of them. While they do fall under the category of J-pop, Arashi has a softer, slower tune. From upbeat to ballads, they have it all. 

If you haven’t heard of the group, you must have at least heard of their members — they are all very active. Hana Yori Dango is a perfect example of Arashi’s exposure through the form of one of their members. 

7. Keiji Haino

As I’ve mentioned before, Japanese music is more than just J-pop, and Keiji Haino is the definition of that — in fact, he’s the extreme other end with his avant-garde music genre, combining minimalism with power.

This is not your average music — think of normal, everyday noise with rock and percussion. It’s kind of hard to really put a pin on Keiji’s music, and any description doesn’t really do them justice. It’s the kind where you have to hear it to understand it.

Oh, and of course, some people would even argue that Keiji Haino is a fashion icon — the hair, ‘nuff said. 

8. X Japan

One of the oldest on the list, X Japan was formed in 1982. You can’t miss them — you literally can’t overlook them. Not only does their music stand out but also visuals; they are kind of the pioneers — some would say they are the leaders and creators — of the Visual Kei subculture.

If I had to describe their sound, X Japan has put quite an emphasis on ballads, focusing strongly on theatricality — as you can tell by their dressing. Watch their videos and live performances and it’ll be very obvious of the passion they have for their band concept.

Recently, X Japan has been leaning towards the metal genre but without sacrificing up fully their original tunes.

9. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

While her original name is Kiriko Takemura, she goes by her stage name, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Extremely famous and influential, I bet everyone in Japan knows of her. Some of you might already know her as her fame is not limited to just domestic fans — the West has grown a liking to her music and performance, with videos going viral and raking high view numbers.

It’s very obvious that her music genre is J-pop — the fast and upbeat tune is hard to miss. They make excellent karaoke songs, if I do say so myself. Some argue that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is kind of like the Japanese version of Lady Gaga when it comes to her fashion style.

10.  Nujabes

Last on the list is Nujabes — this one is pretty underground compared to the rest on the list. It’s the classic case of idolisation after the artist’s passing. Nujabes is without a doubt one of the pioneers of instrumental hip hop as well as a legend of bridging various music genres through his creations. 

This artist has influenced many other artists, during his life and even after. His beatmaking has been an inspiration to not only local artists but Western ones as well, including Pete Rock and  A Tribe Called Quest, both of who are American jazz rap artists.

The Wrap-up

And that sums up the top 10 Japanese musical artists who you have to know — everyone from the mainstream J-pop and sensational pop stars to pioneers of subcultures and music genre legends alike. If you’re a music enthusiast like me, you’d want to check every single one of the artists on this list out, and even do a little bit more digging on the ones I left out (because I had to). I bet your playlist is hours long now — you’re welcome!

Largest Industries in Japan

Largest Industries in Japan

Introduction

Let’s just get it off our chest — we all are very aware that Japan is one of the richest countries in the world, and we have the extremely developed economy to thank for that. In fact, Japan holds the title of the second most developed economy in the whole world; if that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is!

This success didn’t just happen overnight. Being the market-oriented country that it is, there are a few industries on the list that has significantly boosted the country’s economy all the way to the top (well, almost). While agriculture used to be Japan’s top industry — what with a good percentage of this island nation’s land being fit for farming — The Land of The Rising Sun has since evolved to include other businesses.

Let’s take a look at the top five largest industries in Japan that has quite a hand in raising the country up to where it is today!

1. Manufacturing 

It’s no secret that Japan is one of the world’s leading manufacturers, so it’s only natural that it’s the country’s top industry. We see “Made in Japan” on a product and we jump right on it — those three words assure reliability and the finest quality. 

Japan is without a doubt one of the leaders of various manufacturing sectors, including but not limited to automobile and electronics. All of us are more than familiar with motor vehicle companies like Honda, Subaru, Toyota and Nissan — and these are just to name a few. Of course, let’s not forget motorcycle companies like Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha. 

Japan’s manufacturing industry also has its hands into other areas like fashion and food. Anything that comes from Japan and exported to the rest of the world is treated as “luxury” because of the high standards Japan has for all of their manufacturing. Safe to say, you’ll never go wrong with a Japan-made product — whatever it is, from the above average-priced apple to your next brand new car.

2. Consumer

With the manufacturing industry churning out products from left and right at a high pace, the people followed suit. With action comes a reaction, they say. It’s only fair to say that, because the high-quality products in the country are regarded as the standard and most minimal the people ask for, the people of Japan are arguably the most quality-conscious consumers ever. I mean, I definitely can confirm that based on personal experience. 

My definition of cheap or affordable is closer to ten bucks for a shirt, but the Japanese people won’t even bat an eyelid coming out a hundred bucks — that’s their idea of affordable. Mad, right? But that’s just how it is here.

It’s not just with regards to clothes and anything else fashion-related, it’s pretty much for everything. For one, fruits are off the scale here — but of course, quality over quantity is the case in Japan, so five bucks for a carton of milk is kind of like nothing.

People are willing to spend in Japan — and I mean really spend — contributing to the economy drastically. No complaints, though. You’re always guaranteed to get quality with what you pay for…unlike some other places.

3. Technology

I don’t think it’s only me that thinks of fancy gadgets and high-tech everything when it comes to Japan. The island nation basically led the way for the rest of the world into this industry. Japan is one of the leading countries when it comes to technology — all sorts of technology. 

We’ll start off with entertainment; I mean, video games, enough said. Without a doubt, Japan is the leading country for video game technology — Sony and Nintendo are just scratching the surface of this sector. Almost every gaming enthusiast would have owned a gaming product from Japanese companies — whether it is a game or the game console. Other types of entertainment like TV and various related electronics are just as significant.

Japan’s technology also includes communication and services, figuring out ways to boost efficiency to provide for the people. When you think about it, technology comes hand in hand with the consumer and manufacturing industry; an increase in demand in one affects the other two.

4. Service

Okay…service comes hand in hand with the other industries as well. I mean, how can it not? A rise in demand from the consumers equals a rise in technology to accommodate them and manufacturing, and then equals a rise in people selling these products and goods. How else can these products be sold, especially when Japan is quite a “physical” shopping destination?

By that, I mean that the people in Japan are keener on going to the store itself to buy their products than shopping online. If there’s no one manning a store, then no products can be on showcased to sell, and no customers would come. Simple logic.

Because of this situation, the service industry significantly impacts the economy with 75% of employment contributing to the gross domestic product (GDP). Because this is such an important industry in Japan, the employees are paid well, treated well and given opportunities to advance. Give to the economy and the economy gives back, I’d say.

5. Tourism 

Last but not least, the tourism industry. No doubt that this has boosted Japan’s economy in recent years — and has definitely been affected due to the coronavirus. Japan is ranked Number 4 in the world of the most visited countries, with an approximate of 30 million people each year — making it the top-visited country in Asia.

The country’s capital city Tokyo is the most visited city in the country — who could resist the neon lights of bustling Shinjuku and Shibuya, the luxury ambiance of Ginza and the traditions in Asakusa — but the former capital city Kyoto and the neighboring Osaka are not so far behind. Nature and food are almost a complete opposite of Kanto’s Tokyo, and refreshing to say the least.

The Summer Olympics 2020 that was supposed to take place in Tokyo was expected to boost the country’s economy even more, but unfortunately, plans changed. 

The Wrap-up

And that sums up the top industries of Japan that play big parts in making up the country’s economy. The best part is that most of them are interlinked with one another — one goes up, so do the rest. These large industries in The Land of The Rising Sun seem like they are not going away anytime soon, still being one of the leading countries in the world. And we can all expect this island nation to continue rising and rising to the top, just like how the sun always rises first here.

Shopping in Japan: Essential Words & Phrases

Shopping in Japan: Essential Words & Phrases

Introduction

Who doesn’t love going shopping? I know I do! I especially love shopping when travelling because it’s like discovering a whole other universe full of never-before-seen shops and designs. What you can find in one country, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find them in another. It’s kind of like getting a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else back home will have — only you.

Japan is one of the best countries to shop in, with various unique styles that originated from the country itself and thousands of local shops selling at affordable prices. In fact, it’s those underground, low-key ones that have the best bargains and stuff. But of course, not all good things are easy — don’t expect all the shopowners to be able to speak English. 

So why not pick up some Japanese phrases to help you snag that cute, one-of-a-kind coat? I’ve compiled a list of them along with essential words that’ll definitely help you get around Japan’s shopping universe!

~ wa arimasu ka? (〜はありますか?)

If you’ve read a couple of the other posts on the blog, you’d probably have come across this phrase before. That’s because “~wa arimasu ka?” (〜ありますか?) is extremely useful in every situation. This phrase translates to “Do you have …?” How many times have you asked a staff lady if they have something in a specific colour or size, or if they sell a specific product? I lost count for myself.

It cuts down a whole lot of time searching around by myself — I’ll just approach someone who knows the store better than I do. Don’t panic; this phrase is a yes or no question, so the replies could only be one of two ways: yes (はい) or no (いいえ).

If you want to know if they sell hats, simply add the word for “hat” at the front of the phrase: “boushi wa arimasu ka?” (帽子はありますか?). Same goes for asking for a different colour or size — just add the word for the colour or the size at the front: “aka wa arimasuka?” (赤はありますか?) means “Do you have it in red?” and “eru saizu arimasu ka?” (エルサイズありますか?) means “Do you have L size?”

Here are some words that you can use with this phrase:

Colours

Red — Aka ()

Blue — Ao ()

Green — Midori ()

Yellow —  kiiro (黄色)

Orange — orenji (オレンジ)

Purple — Murasaki ()

White — Howaito (ホワイト)

Black — Kuro ()

Pink — pinku (ピンク)

Items

Dress — Wanpisu (ワンピス)

Fancy dress — Doresu (ドレス)

Watch — Tokei (時計)

Scarf — Sukaafu (スカーフ)

Shirt — Shatsu (シャツ)

Shoes — Kutsu ()

Pants — Zubon (ズボン)

Jacket — Jaketto (ジャケット)

Sizes

S — esu (エス)

M — emu (エム)

L — eru (エル)

Big — ookii (大きい)

Small— chiisai (小さい)

Kono hen ni ~ arimasu ka? (この辺に〜ありますか?) 

Japan has a lot of stores lined up on a single street — it can get overwhelming and confusing. Where’s the nearest shopping mall? Where can I find the drugstore? I swear Google Maps said the bookstore is here…

All these questions, who to ask, and how? Easy, with this phrase: “kono hen ni … arimasu ka?” (この辺に〜ありますか?). This translates to “Is there a … around here?” I bet you noticed the phrase we used earlier — yup, I told you, it’s extremely flexible.

If you’re looking for a supermarket, simply add that in the gap: “kono hen ni suupaamaaketto arimasu ka?” (この辺にスーパーマーケットありますか?). Similarly, it’s a yes or no question, so expect a yes or no reply — with a twist; there will be directions given most of the time, but that’s a whole other article on its own.

Here are some words of places to help you with your direction-asking:

Shop — mise ()

Bookstore — honya (本屋)

Drug store — doraggusutoa (ドラッグストア)

Convenience store — konbini (コンビニ)

Department store — depaato (デパート)

~ sagashite imasu (〜探しています)

If you want a level up from asking if they have something or not, why not tell them what you’re looking for instead? To say “I’m looking for …”, say “~ sagashite imasu” (〜探しています).

For example, if you’re looking for a black shirt, combine the word for black and shirt with this phrase: “kuroi shatsu wo sagashite imasu” (黒いシャツ探しています). You can basically switch out anything you’re looking for and it’ll work just the same. You can even add “arimasu ka?” at the end to ask if they have what you’re looking for. 

Shichaku shitemo ii desu ka? (試着してもいいですか?)

When you’re in a store, it’s only natural to want to try something on to see if it’s your size and if it suits you. I mean, that’s the only difference between shopping in-store and online. So how do you ask the staff person if you can try it on? With this phrase: “shichaku shitemo ii desu ka?” (試着してもいいですか?) 

Unlike the others, this is a phrase on its on without the need to add any other words to it. It’s pretty straightforward — say it a few times and you’ll have it permanently locked in your brain.

~ sugimasu (〜すぎます)

So, after you’ve tried it on, it’s just not the right size. It may have been too big or too small — either way, you have no idea how to tell the staff person because you don’t know the words for it!

Don’t fret, this phrase is exactly that. “~ sugimasu” (〜すぎます) is like saying “it’s too…”, so to say something is too big, add the word for big before it: “ookisugimasu” (大きすぎます). If something is too small, add the word for small instead: “chisasugimasu” (小さすぎます).

And that’s all there is to it!

Nanji ~ aitemasu ka? (何時〜空いてますか? )

When you’re travelling, opening hours seem to be extra important — that extra hour in the morning or an extra half hour of nighttime shopping is the game we all play. Most of the time, the opening hours reflected on Google Maps are up-to-date, but some local shops won’t even be listed on Google Maps. How does one figure out the opening times then?Ask, of course. This phrase gets you the opening and closing times depending on what word you use in the gap: “Nanji ~ aitemasu ka?” (何時〜空いてますか?). This phrase basically translates to “ … what time does it open?”

To ask what time does it close, add the word “made” (まで) to mean “until” in the gap: “Nanji made aitemasu ka?” (何時まで空いてますか?) This translates to “until what time do you open?”

To ask what time does it open, use “kara” (から) to mean “from” instead: “Nanji kara aitemasu ka?” (何時から空いてますか?). This means “from what time do you open?”

Ikura desu ka? (いくらですか?)

Most of the time, the price tags are plastered on each garment and accessory, but on the off chance it’s not, you need to be able to ask, “How much is it?” This phrase is exactly that. Approach the staff lady, point to the item and ask, “ikura desu ka?” (いくらですか?)

Be sure to practice your numbers in Japanese! It can get quite confusing — hyaku (), sen () and man () do not exactly work the same way as hundreds and thousands.

~ onegaishimasu (〜お願いします )

So you figured out the price, found your size and colour, and you’re at the cash register. How are you going to pay? Cash or card? Do you want a bag? How are you going to convey all of that?

With “~ onegaishimasu” (〜お願いします) — duh! It’s like our first phrase where it’s pretty flexible and extremely useful. Want to pay by cash? Add the word for cash (現金, genkin) before that: “genkin onegaishimasu” (現金お願いします). How about card (クレジットカード, kurejitto kaado): “kurejitto kaado onegaishimasu” (クレジットカードカードお願いします).

Want a bag to put it all in? “Kaban onegaishimasu” (カバンお願いします) does the trick! 

The Wrap-up

And you’re all set for your shopping trip in Japan! You’re able to find your stuff, ask for the right colour and size, get the location and opening hours of the store you’re looking for, figure out the price and pay for it — that’s all the steps! Now get your shopping shoes on and grab that credit card, and get shopping!

The Omiyage Culture

The Omiyage Culture

Introduction

You know how when you travel, you’d spend hours and hours in souvenir shops, picking out the best takeaway for yourself as well as your friend and family back home? I know I’m guilty of that. The souvenir culture is huuuuge everywhere in the world — that explains the streets of souvenir shops full of city landscapes printed on shirts, magnets and keychains.

In Japan, even if you go to a different prefecture in the same country, it’s kind of obligatory to bring back a souvenir — or in this case, omiyage (お土産). Omiyage is actually so much more than just a souvenir; we’ll talk about that in detail later on in the article. 

This omiyage culture can be extremely foreign to…well, foreigners. So much that it can take quite a bit of getting used to. Don’t get scared off just yet — here’s a breakdown of what it is, where the culture came from and a simple guide on how to pick the perfect omiyage.

What is “omiyage”?

First off, what is omiyage actually? To know what it actually means, we’ll have to break down the kanji of the word: 土 means “earth/ground” and 産 means “product”. Combine the two, the word “omiyage” can translate to being a “local product”, given as a gift when returning from a trip.

Usually, omiyage comes in boxes that are brightly coloured, with individually wrapped snacks that are perfect for sharing amongst people at work, school and even at home. In some cultures, mine included, bringing back a piece of the place you visited isn’t really that big of a deal, but in Japan, it’s customary — it’s like a social taboo if you don’t do it!

The significance of omiyage

Why the strong emphasis on omiyage? It’s basically the idea of sharing your experience, to explain it briefly. Oftentimes, omiyage is something that’s specific to the region you visited. Whether it’s sweets or other types of food, as long as the area is known for that, it’ll make an ideal omiyage.

For example, Okinawa is known for goya and sweet potato — so pick your omiyage based on that. By bringing back the region’s specialty, you’re giving the people a chance to try a regional product that you possibly can’t get outside of the area — although nowadays, you probably can, but that doesn’t matter!

Omiyage origins

So, where did this omiyage culture come from? To be very honest, no one really knows. But it all started from sacred pilgrimages. People who visited Shinto shrines were to bring back some sort of evidence of their pilgrimage. Back then, omiyage comes in the form of charms and rice wine cups. They believed that people who have these items would be blessed just like the pilgrims themselves.

In those days, food preservation wasn’t that common. It was pretty limited and people were traveling on foot, so baggage was kept at a minimum to keep it light. When the railway system was built, it made transporting food so much easier. I guess that’s how omiyage transitioned to mostly be food — even though it’s not limited to that.

Omiyage vs souvenir

So the question remains: what’s the difference between omiyage and souvenir? Omiyage is usually translated to “souvenir” in English, but there’s a slight difference.

Souvenir is more often than not used to refer to takeaways from a country that you buy for yourself, and maybe a lucky few friends and family. Omiyage refers to things that you buy solely for others. You’re thinking about them when you buy it — that’s what makes it extra special. While souvenirs are what you keep for yourself, omiyage is not consumed or kept by the traveller. 

What’s more, souvenirs don’t have to be a specialised item from the area, but for omiyage, it has to be. It’s like bringing back matcha (抹茶) from Japan and not a bag of chips — bad comparison, but hopefully you get the idea.

How to pick the perfect omiyage?

Source: jpellgen (@1179_jp) from Flickr

It sounds like a lot of work, picking out the perfect omiyage. But there’s a simple solution to the ideal omiyage anywhere you go: food. Anything edible makes the perfect omiyage for your coworkers, friends and family.

If you’re choosing omiyage in Japan, you’ll soon realise you’ll have quite a hard time picking just one because souvenir shops in the country are full of them! I know I have a hard time every time — which do I buy for myself and which do I give out to others?

Definitely choose something that has a nice packaging — ideally with something that represents the region you went to. You might want to consider the cost as well; keep it between 500 to 1500 yen, but I’d recommend getting one with a nice label on it.

A lot of omiyage products in Japan are individually packed for this very convenience of sharing with others. They come in 6, 10, 12 and 18 most of the time. Calculate how many people are there in your workplace or family — and buy accordingly. The more food there is, the merrier, I’d say.

If you’re travelling during a special time like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, get those limited edition ones! It gives the extra umph to your omiyage cred!

Also, buy it on the last day of your trip! Even though a lot of omiyage can last quite a while, now with the modern technology of food preservation, I would advise keeping the omiyage picking activity as the last event so that the food would be fresher — and also not have to go through all the bumpy train and car rides. 

Conclusion

And there you have it — the omiyage culture is actually not that scary. It’s pretty simple once you’ve gotten the basics down. And don’t worry, we usually get the “gaijin pass”, as I’d like to call it — which is when the Japanese people understand that us foreigners aren’t used to their ways. But it’s always best to know all of the ins and outs, right? Like they say, “when in Japan, do what the Japanese do” — or did I not get that right?