Japan in General

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

Best season to visit Japan

When is the best season to visit Japan? Some say it’s in spring when cherry blossoms are at its peak. Others say it’s in autumn because it’s foliage season. If you don’t like hot weather, avoid July and August. If you like hot weather, but not the cold, then February won’t be the best month for you to visit Japan. That being said, guests enjoy travelling Japan any time of the year. Each season has something to offer. Air conditioning is available anywhere you go in summer and you can enjoy shaved ice with syrup called “Kakigori”. Skiing in Hokkaido or Tohoku, Hokuriku area is something you can’t miss in winter. [...]