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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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. [...]

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 [...]

How to enjoy hot springs in Japan

Hot Springs in Japan are called “onsen”. It literally means hot springs,  as “on” means warm and “sen” means springs. Because Japanese archipelago forms a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where volcanos are active, chances are you find hot springs everywhere you go in Japan. Yes, even monkeys enjoy natural hot springs. (Those are not the ones humans go in by the way.) There are total of 54,804 hot springs in Japan and all 47 prefectures have hot springs. I strongly recommend you try getting in one of them, because it is refreshing and also is a good chance to experience the local culture. There are a few tips [...]

Why is Japan clean?

I grew up in Japan, so I never felt Japan was particularly clean. I didn’t know any other places to compare with. Now that I’ve been to dozens of other countries, I can say Japan is a relatively clean country. It stands out in terms of cleanliness. Of course, not every place in Japan is immaculately clean. But I feel it’s safe to say that most of public places are generally kept tidy and dust free. So, what makes Japan this clean? Yes, Japanese people bathe everyday. We like to keep ourselves clean and odor free. But is that the only reason? I don’t think so. I think education plays [...]