How to Visit a Japanese Home

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Visiting someone’s home in Japan is a rare event. I visited friends while was studying abroad in university, and we cooked dinner together and made dessert, or had drinking parties. I lived with a host family and I even visited the home of a staff member at the Japanese university I was attending. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t visit my friends’ homes when I visit Japan, but rather I meet them out at restaurants or karaoke or even Starbucks.

When my husband was a kid his mother didn’t often allow him to have friends over at his house, mostly because she was uncomfortable at having people over that she wasn’t very familiar with. In the US, people often have large groups over to their house for a party or a BBQ, even people they don’t know very well but who are friends of friends. In Japan, it’s not very common to invite people over to your house. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Japanese homes or apartments are often quite small, and so having even just a few extra people in the home can be uncomfortable.

So, don’t be surprised if you aren’t invited to someone’s home in Japan, and rather are asked to meet outside at a restaurant or coffee shop. However, on the off chance that you are invited to someone’s house, I wanted to review some basic etiquette rules for Japanese home visits. Continue reading

Best Omiyage to Bring to Japan

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Buying omiyage お土産 in Japan is a lot of fun, because there are omiyage specific to every region, and I often end up buying as many omiyage for myself as for family and friends ^^;;

However, when it’s time to buy omiyage in the US to bring to Japan, I always have a difficult time. The first time I went to Japan I had to buy omiyage for a host family I hadn’t yet met and for friends that I hadn’t yet made. I had a vague idea that omiyage meant souvenirs, but when I went out to shop for them I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to buy.

Now when I go to Japan, I always bring omiyage for people I know, as well as bringing a few extra omiyage in case I meet new people. And I still have trouble finding omiyage. Part of this might be my own particularity in trying to find the perfect gift for friends and family, but I think it also has to do with the lack of omiyage culture here in the US.

However, I have slowly started to get a better idea of what kinds of omiyage to bring for friends and other people I may meet in Japan, and I wanted to share it with others traveling to Japan.

Tokyo/Mt Fuji Strawberry Cheesecake Kit Kat

Tokyo/Mt Fuji Strawberry Cheesecake Kit Kat omiyage gift box – photo by kei

Non-Perishable Food

When you live in Japan and visit another prefecture or even another country, you bring back omiyage for your friends, family, and coworkers. Often, the omiyage is food that is in small, individually wrapped packages inside of a larger package, so that it is easily shared among coworkers or friends. Usually these food items are specific to the prefecture within Japan, or something famous from a foreign country.

Non-perishable food items are a great omiyage for people you don’t know because they work for men, women, and children. If your home country or state has a unique food item, that might be a good choice. It’s best if it’s something that isn’t too unique, and that people outside your country can eat. If your home country is India and you bring the spiciest food on Earth as omiyage, it might not be suitable for all palates, so you might choose something a little more tame. Of course, if you know your close friend likes it as spicy as possible, that’s a different story. Japanese people aren’t as concerned about food allergies, so unless you know you are meeting someone with a specific food allergy, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about it. Continue reading

3 Faux Pas to Avoid in Japan – First Impressions

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Whether you are studying abroad in Japan or even just making Japanese friends, when meeting people for the first time you want to give a good first impression. When visiting another country, it’s important to be aware of social customs in that country, but Japanese culture can be subtly different from the majority of Western culture in a lot of ways.

Most people who study Japanese or have an interest in Japan know something of the culture, but even the most knowledgeable Japan aficionados have habits that may leave Japanese people wondering if all Americans (Canadians/Europeans/etc.) do such strange things. If you Google “Japanese faux pas” you can find most of the standard things to avoid, but I wanted to touch on some things that I have seen in my personal experience. I also wanted to focus on first meetings and first impressions, because those make even the most confident person nervous.

So I present to you 3 faux pas to avoid when you meet a Japanese person for the first time.

1. Mimicking behavior you saw in anime

Anime is a great way to pick up Japanese phrases, to practice your Japanese, and to connect with Japanese pop culture. There are so many genres of anime that you’re sure to find something you enjoy, and many of them are widely available with subtitles in your native language. However, I have known a lot of anime fans that incorporate the gestures, way of talking, or quirks of their favorite anime characters into their daily interactions. This can be fun when you’re talking with other fans or cosplaying at a convention, but I wouldn’t recommend doing your best Naruto impression when you first meet someone. Imagine if you met someone for the first time and they spoke and acted exactly like Tony Stark from Iron Man – how would you respond? You’d probably be friendly, but slightly confused. Continue reading

3 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Living in Japan

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Living in another country is as foreign as, well, living in another country. Studying the language can prepare you for culture shock by introducing the more intriguing differences between your country and another, but only by living in that country can you truly understand how different another culture can be. Today I’d like to introduce 3 things that I wish I had better understood before living in Japan!

1. Burnable vs. Non-burnable Garbage

In the US, we have regular trash and recycling. Some people have compost piles too, which consist primarily of biodegradable food waste products that can be used to fertilize gardens, but in general, you throw trash away in one big bin and recycling in another bin.

In Japan, garbage must be separated into burnable garbage, non-burnable garbage, and recycling. There are even separate, clear bags that you must use for each kind of trash. At my apartment in Japan, garbage had to be put out only on the designated trash day, and if something had been put in the wrong bag it would not be collected. The bags were not put in bins, but under a giant net at the designated collection area. Continue reading

Japan Diaries Day 27 – New Year’s Eve

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Although I only had a little over a week left in my one-month trip to Japan last December, it was finally New Year’s Eve. Since New Year’s is mostly a family holiday in Japan, we continued our time with my fiance’s family.

☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆

2014年12月31日

My fiance’s apartment was close to his parent’s house, and his older brother and his older brother’s wife were staying at the house, so when we visited it was quite crowded. We weren’t going to celebrate in the traditional way, because of the recent passing of a close relative, but we still gathered together and enjoyed some of the New Year’s traditions.

New Year’s Cleaning (お掃除)

Before the New Year, it is Japanese tradition to clean the house entirely, a tradition called お掃除 o-souji. The word souji means “cleaning” but the o before the word souji is specifically used for New Year’s cleaning. A couple days earlier we began o-souji at his parents house, and we also did the cleaning at my fiance’s apartment.

His mother took care of much of the actual cleaning of the house, but her daughter-in-law and myself both helped. Even his older brother helped a bit! We hung out the bedding (futon) and cleaned all the floors, washed the cars, and swept up the garden and front entrance to the house. We did most of the cleaning a few days before the New Year, but you want to make sure everything is cleaned out before the new year arrives!

apartment

Futons hung outside an apartment building in Yamanashi prefecture – photo by kei

O-souji is similar to spring cleaning in America. You clean out all the dust and dirt that accumulated over the past year so that you can start the new year fresh. Thus, you end the year with a clean house and you are ready to move forward with the new year and whatever it will bring. Continue reading

Japan Diaries Day 24 – New Year’s Eel

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During my one-month trip to Tokyo, the Dog Days of December between Christmas and New Years continued as I spent time with my fiance’s family in preparation for the New Year…

☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆

2014年12月28日

My fiance’s mother returned on Sunday, and his brother and brother’s wife also arrived for the New Year. New Year’s in Japan is a family celebration, with families gathering from across the country in their hometowns to celebrate. The end of the old year and the beginning of the new is linked with many customs in Japan, but our New Year celebrations this year would be tempered.

New Year Kadomatsu

New Year Kadomatsu 門松
photo by kei

My fiance’s grandmother had passed away earlier in the year, and as a rule you do not celebrate New Year’s as usual when a close relative has passed away. The usual New Years decorations would not be set up, the food would be more basic, and we were not allowed to greet each other with the traditional New Year’s phrase: あけましておめでとうございます akemashite omedetou gozaimasu (Happy New Year). The family also would not send or receive New Year’s postcards.

However, the immediate family still gathered and we still had plans to eat a lot food. I was also grateful to his family for their welcoming of me into their family celebrations and allowing me to play with their dogs practically every time I was at the house.

Unajyu うな重 / Eel in a Box

Once my fiance’s brother and brother’s wife had arrived, my fiance’s father took us to eat unajyu, which is kabayaki unagi (basically, BBQ eel) on top of a bed of rice in a lacquer box. The eel is marinated in a sweet soy sauce and then broiled on a grill. The eel is served with pickled things (tsukemono 漬物) and the eel heart in a soup. The heart has no taste, and absorbs the broth flavor well.

Unajyu

Unajyu うな重 – Broiled eel in a lacquer box – photo by kei

This meal is considered a stamina-building meal, and is especially popular to eat in the summer. It looks like a normal amount of food, but I really needed stamina to eat it. The sauce is quite sweet, and there is a lot of rice underneath. I was the slowest of the family to finish, and I was almost too full to move!

Unajyu is not really a traditional New Years dish as far as I understand, but it’s not something that is eaten on an everyday basis either. Recently, a problem with overharvesting eels has made them much more rare and expensive. Eels can’t be farmed and raised like some fish species can, because for some unknown reason if you have a bunch of eels together, they turn out to all be the same gender. You can’t maintain a stable breeding population like that. Unajyu with its beautiful lacquer box is as expensive as it looks, and so it was a rare treat to eat this stamina-packed dish.

Looking back, I really honestly think I just ate my way through the holidays in Japan. I suppose it’s not much different from America in that way! You get together with family and you eat lots of food. See how similar cultures can be? ^^ I enjoy exploring new cultures.

What kind of delicacies are available in your country? In a country you’ve visited?

Next Up: Japan Diaries Day 25 – Omiyage & Tokyo Skytree Revisited

Japan Diaries 2014

Top 5 Things My Japanese Husband Likes About America

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My husband lived in the US for about a year and a half as a foreign student, but then went back to Japan because we had decided to work and live in Japan. However, when I got a job offer in the US that was more relevant to my Master’s degree than the job in Japan, we decided to live in the US.

Honestly, I was a little surprised at first that he was so willing to move to the US. A lot of the Japanese students I meet who study abroad in the US like the country (that’s usually why they choose America, rather than England or Canada or Australia, to study abroad), but when I ask about living here, about 80% (note: no actual statistical data was used in calculating this percent) say they would rather live in Japan. America is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn’t want to live here. I can understand that, especially since their home country is so familiar to them and the US is different from Japan in many ways.

However, my husband is very flexible in his mindset, and that allows him to adjust easily to almost any place and any situation. So, I asked him what he liked the most about America, and what enticed him to live here. Here are his top 5 favorite things about living in America… (TL;DR version is in bold ^^) Continue reading

5 Things My Japanese Husband Doesn’t Like About America

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My husband has lived in the US before for a year and a half to study English, but now he lives here permanently, and in a different city than before. I previously posted about his top 5 favorite things about America, so I thought I’d add his top 5 complaints in too, for a balanced view of life in the US.

Study abroad is an amazing experience, and I really can’t say enough about going abroad during university, no matter where you may choose to go. However, study abroad is a unique experience and, while it most certainly can prepare you for living in a different country, it’s quite different than living there full time. Once you’ve got over the initial culture shock (Americans wear shoes inside??), you start to settle in and adjust to your new country. But if you decide to live there permanently, things can be quite different than you perceived while studying abroad as a student or on working holiday.

There are many people who have experienced similar situations, and for reference I’d like to suggest these blogs:
Texan in Tokyo
My Korean Husband
An Austrian’s Life in Japan.

Now that my husband has moved from Japan to the US, and then moved again within the US, he has experienced more of the “real life” US than even before, while he was sheltered in an academic environment with other foreign students. These are a few of his recent complaints about the US. (TL;DR version is in bold ^^) Continue reading