Imperial transition in Japan in 2019, abdication, coronation and the new era “Reiwa”

In Japan, a big imperial transition event in the royal family is coming up this spring. Current Emperor Akihito will abdicate the throne on April 30, 2019. Then, his son, Crown Prince Naruhito will assume the throne in Japan on May 1, 2019. Emperor Akihito asked for this abdication due to his age and his wish in favor of his son, Naruhito. His predecessors did not abdicate while they were alive and that makes him the first one to do so in 200 years. There are many festivities planned around the coronation and the government announced to make May 1st a holiday this year, which makes 10 consecutive days off for many people combined [...]

Where and how to validate / receive your Japan Rail Pass

You’ve got a voucher for your Japan Rail Pass. Great! But where and how can you validate / receive the pass?   Midori-no-madoguchi Bring your voucher to a JR (Japan Railroad Company) counter located at major JR train stations called Midori-no Madoguchi, which literally means “Green Counter”. They will know what you want if you show the voucher, but try saying “onegai shimasu” along with showing the voucher. It is a useful and polite expression in Japanese meaning “please do this for me” that you can use almost everywhere you go in Japan. You can just say “onegai shimasu” or use is in place for please like “shio-ramen onegai shimasu”. [...]

Space Invaders 40th Anniversary special VR Games in Osaka Yodobashi 2018 – Never miss it!

You can’t miss the temporary Space Invaders VR Games at Yodobashi in Osaka if you are visiting Japan in 2018 or in January 2019! It opened on August 9, 2018 and the pop game store will be open till January 27, 2019. Location: Yodobashi Umeda Store Address: 1-1 Ofuka-cho,Kita-ku,Osaka-shi,Osaka [MAP] Hours: 9:30 – 22:00 (Last admission 21:30) Space Invaders VR Games They have 3 AR games and 1 gigantic game of Space Invaders available. 1.ARKINVADERS In this VR game, you kick and shoot the ball to destroy invader ships on a virtual gaming floor. Strike back the massive Invader attacks with your feet! 2. NOBORINVADERS You will love this unique combination [...]

How long is the summer break in Japanese schools? How about spring and winter breaks?

Most elementary, middle and high schools in Japan have about 40 days of summer breaks, usually from July 20 to August 31. Winter break is normally from December 25 to January 7. Spring break is from March 25 to around April 5. (The school year starts in April.)   School hours’ change toward breaks One interesting fact is they start to gradually shorten the school hours when a break approaches. For example, they normally have 6 periods in a day. Length of a school day varies depending on each school, but let’s say the school starts at 8:20 and ends at 3:00 to cover those 6 periods. From around July [...]

Tattoos and Hot Springs (onsen) – tattoo-friendly hot springs in Japan and how to find them

Are there tattoo-friendly hot springs in Japan? How can you find out if they will let you in and how can you make sure you don’t miss out this unique experience of getting in hot springs while travelling in Japan? Why do they care if you have tattoos or not in the first place? Why tattoos are taboos in Hot Springs in Japan It has been a custom in Japan to prohibit people with tattoos to use public onsen, hot springs. That was because tattoos meant connection to Japanese mafia, Yakuza, for a long time. Tattooed skin indicated  that the person had pledged to be a member of a crime [...]

Riding a train in Japan – Tips, manners and trivia including endless announcements and women-only cars

I use public transportations as much as possible when I’m travelling in a foreign country. You get to experience real life as a local. That’s what makes a travel a real experience beyond been-there-done-that in my opinion. I recommend that you take trains and buses when you visit Japan not only because it’s convenient, but it has some uniqueness that you might enjoy. Here are some things to keep in mind when you go ride on a train in Japan. Punctual Service Public transportation system in Japan is amazingly punctual and well organized. Trains in Japan run dead on schedule. Check when your train is supposed to arrive and/or depart [...]

Digital Museum Tokyo – tickets, directions and more

Mori Building Digital Art Museum – teamLab Borderless is opening in Tokyo on June 21, 2018. Do you want to experience the “future” you’ve seen in sci-fi movies? Do you like to literally touch and feel the cutting-edge? Or, do you like arts? If your answer to one of the questions above is yes, you can’t miss this Digital Art Museum in Tokyo. TeamLab has held many exhibitions before. They had ones in abroad in places like London and Thailand. But those are all temporary ones. This time, it is going to be a permanent exhibition. I’ve been to Teamlab exhibition in Tokyo three years ago and it was beyond [...]

Liberal Democratic Party of Japan – Why can LDP stay in power for such a long time?

Liberal Democratic Party of Japan or LDP Japan has been in power up until now from its foundation in 1955 for the most of the time. Other parties were in power only short periods: less than two years between 1993 and 1994 and about three years from 2009 to 2012. Why is this party so powerful and what is the reason for other parties not being able to keep the office? Overview Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) is a leading right-wing conservative party in Japan. In Japanese, it is called “Jiyu-minshu-to”. Jiyu means liberty. Minshu means democracy. To is a term for a party. It is abbreviated as “Ji-min-to” [...]

Japanese letters and alphabets – how many are they and why do we use so many of them?

Japanese characters or letters have two sets of alphabets and one set of ideographic characters. Brief Introduction – Hiragana The first set of alphabet is called “Hiragana” and it consists of 48 characters. Each letter represents a sound that is a mix of a consonant and a vowel in most cases. For example “す” is pronounced “soo” and “し” is pronounced “shi”, thus “すし” is pronounced “sooshi” which means Sushi of course. – Katakana The second set of alphabet is called “Katakana” and it also consists of 48 characters. Actually, Hiragana and Katakana are sets of characters which represent the same 48 sounds, but in different styles. For example, the [...]

Emperor and Imperial Family of Japan – What you need to know about the world’s oldest dynasty

Emperor Akihito of Japan will step down from the throne in April, 2019 after almost 30 years of being on the throne. He will be the first Emperor in 200 years to step down while being still alive. So, it made a headline when he announced it in August 2016. Emperor Akihito was the first emperor to assume the throne as a “symbol of Japan” under the Constitution of Japan which went into effect in 1947 after the World War II. What is the role of Imperial Family in Japan and what is the history behind it? The World’s Oldest Monarchy The Imperial Family of Japan is considered to be [...]

Edamame – health benefits of amazingly nutritious green soybeans

What is Edamame? Since Edamame has become popular appetizer in Japanese restaurant everywhere in the world over the past decade, I get asked questions like “What is edamame?” all the time. I love edamame and I cook it all the time, but I didn’t know enough to answer those questions before. It looks nutritious. It looks like beans. But what kind of beans are they? So, I studied a little and learned that edamame is an amazing food! Edamame is soybeans This is a fact that many Japanese don’t know either. They consider edamame as a name for the plant. But, no. They are soybeans. They are young green soybeans. [...]

Why do Japanese always say san? – Honorifics in Japanese

Why does Mr.Miyagi say “Daniel san” in Karate Kid?  What is the meaning of san? Ever wondered why Japanese people address people with san after their name? This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get about Japan from tourists and friends alike. You may be already using san to address your Japanese counterpart just because it seems polite to follow their way. But why do Japanese always say san? What does san mean? San San is one of many honorific titles in Japanese. It is the most common one and it is used not only when addressing someone, but also when talking about someone who is [...]

Japanese Calligraphy – The Art of Shodo

Japanese Calligraphy is called “Shodo”. The word Shodo literally means the way of writing. Shodo is writing letters with a brush using Indian ink on Japanese paper. Although it is called Japanese Calligraphy, it is widely shared in East-Asian countries since it was born in China more than 2000 years ago. History of Japanese Calligraphy Shodo was introduced to Japan from China some 1500 years ago. At the same time, Chinese characters “Kanji” were also introduced, as Japanese did not have characters to write with. Japanese people at that time started to use Kanji to write Japanese. They actually used the Chinese ideographs as phonetic alphabet to express Japanese sound. Those [...]

Types of soy products in Japan – Tofu, Miso, Edamame and more

Soy products such as soy milk and tofu have become really popular in western countries. They are healthier substitution for meat products, since soybeans are great source of protein while being low fat and rich in minerals. There are a range of foods made from soybeans in Japan other than tofu. Vegetarian or not, Japan is a place to go to load yourself with soy products. 1. Tofu Tofu is soy bean curd. But what is bean curd anyway? Actually it is fixed soy milk. Soybeans are soaked in water to soften. Then, you grind and strain the soybeans to make soy milk. You add bettern (the solution after crystallization [...]

Tea Whisk “Chasen” for Japanese Green Tea is a Piece of Art

Tea whisk “Chasen” makes the velvety thick texture of authentic Japanese green tea. Behind that velvety texture is the bamboo tea whisk called “Chasen” which have been crafted by artisans in Nara, Japan for more than 800 years. Tea whisks are made from bamboo dried outside over the winter. Artisans use dozens of different tools to whittle down the layers of bamboo into fine bristles.   How to make a tea whisk Types of tea whisks There are more than ten schools of tea ceremony and each school requires different types of tea whisks. Although the basic structure is the same, number of bristles differ significantly from 80 to 120. [...]

How to take a bike on a train in Japan

So, you brought your bike to Japan. You plan on travelling around Japan by bike. Unless you have plenty of time and are determined to bike to everywhere, you might want to get to the next destination quickly on a train. How can you do that in Japan and what are the rules for bringing your bike on a train? I’m writing this article to answer those questions. Train is the way to transport your bike in Japan I love cycling. I own a road bike and a mountain bike. On my weekend trips to the country, I always bring my bike, especially in spring and autumn. There are many [...]

Why do people go crazy about the virtual idol, Hatsune Miku?

Hatsune Miku probably has the biggest fan base as a virtual figure. Every single her concert is sold out in a matter of seconds, even if it is held in a large stadium. If you haven’t heard about her, check this Youtube video that has tens of millions of views. You get the idea. A company called Crypton Future Media created this Vocaloid, a vocal synthesizer, in 2007. It has a set of vocal sources, or maybe I should say it is a set of vocal sound sources. It includes natural breaths to be inserted in between notes. The voice is modeled after a Japanese voice actress, Saki Fujita. It [...]

Why do so many people in Japan wear face masks?

If you visit Japan in winter, you might find it strange that so many Japanese people are wearing surgical face masks. You see lots of people with their face covered with white masks on train, on street, in the office, onboard the airplane … basically everywhere. Why do they do that? For most cases, they are either trying to avoid catching any viruses or trying not to pass their cold to others as a caring posture. If you see them in the airplane cabin, chances are that they do so for keeping their throat moisturized. Cabin air is very dry. Its humidity level is as low as 20%. I also [...]

Why is a Shinto Shrine standing on a Buddhist Temple’s ground in Japan?

If you go sightseeing in Japan, chances are you visit both Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples. Your guide will explain to you that Shinto is indigenous religion of Japan, while Buddhism originated in India. You understand they are two separate things, but then you find a Shinto Shrine standing in the precinct of a Buddhist temple! That is actually very common, but you may wonder what is going on. Not many guides can explain this phenomenon very well, because it is something very normal to them and is hard to verbalize. Japanese are said to be born Shintoist, to get married in Christian style and then to die as a [...]

Real-life Mario Kart in Tokyo

Do you want to have a real-life experience of being in a Mario Kart race? You can do it in Tokyo. There is a tour company called “Maricar Akihabara”. They let you put on costumes of one of the characters in Mario Kart, then take you on a tour around Tokyo on a kart. I’ve never been to this tour, but one of my friends has been and she told me it was a surreal experience. A few things to remember is that there had been critical news articles about this tour, since there were dozens of traffic accidents caused by the drivers of these karts. I think those accidents [...]