Love in Japanese

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How do you say “I love you” in Japanese?

The Google result for that exact phrase is:

わたしは、あなたを愛しています

(In romaji, that’s: Watashi wa, anata wo ai shite imasu)

While this is grammatically correct, culturally it’s not the most common way to convey the all-important feelings to your Japanese significant other. So how can you say “I love you” in Japanese?

Say I Love You in Japanese

When I was first starting to learn Japanese, I learned that “I like you” is 好きです suki desu, “I like you a lot” is 大好きです dai suki desu, and “I love you” is 愛しています ai shite imasu.

However, my Japanese boyfriends (one of whom is now my husband) never said 愛しています (ai shite imasu) to me. Usually, they said 好きだよ (suki da yo), and sometimes even 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo)  (♥ω♥ ) ~♪

So does this mean that they never, you know, loved me? Σ(・Д・)!?

As an American, it’s common even when you are in high school to exchange I-love-you’s with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and seeing it in movies and other media makes you sort of expect to hear it from someone you are dating. So to a young me, it seemed strange that Japanese guys didn’t use what I had always heard was the translation for “I love you.”

It Means I Love You in Japanese

If you study Japanese, you know that the language is all about beating around the bush, or being vague (曖昧 aimai). This is also true with verbal expressions of affection. As my Japanese improved I realized that pretty much no one says 愛しています (ai shite imasu) to express affection, even when they truly love someone.

While 好き (suki) means “like,” it also means “love.” When someone confesses to another person in anime or dramas, they say 好きです (suki desu), which doesn’t mean “I love you” because that’s a little fast, but it means “I like you.” As the relationship grows, it can evolve into love, but that transition is never explicitly discussed. But when I ask Japanese guys, 好き still means love to them.

Culturally, direct expressions are not entirely common, so it can be uncomfortable for Japanese guys to express their emotions in such a direct manner. Even American guys have problems expressing emotion, so you can’t really blame Japanese guys.

How to Say I Love You in Japanese

It is said that in Japanese, “I like you” 好きです (suki desu) and “thank you” ありがとう (arigatou) mean “love” (愛 ai). In a language where you don’t often directly express such strong emotions, this means that it’s not the direct meaning of the words that is important, as much as the feelings behind the words.

In Japanese households, parents and children don’t often exchange sentiments such as love verbally or even with hugs or kisses. Rather, they express their feelings through what they do to care for and support each other. Thus, expressing thanks is a way of noticing how someone cares for you and expressing your appreciation. And doing similarly kind things for the other person is a good way to express your own feelings of love.

In romantic relationships, this same nonverbal communication can almost be more important than simply saying 好き (suki). So don’t get worried when your Japanese boyfriend doesn’t say 愛しています (ai shite imasu) – it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you! Look at his actions, and it should be obvious how he feels. If you still want to hear it? Ask! It might be awkward at first, but it provides a chance for multi-cultural learning for both of you. If you need verbal confirmation, like a lot of American women do, usually Japanese guys will make an effort once they know how important it is to you.

I love you - photo by kei

So go ahead, and say “I really like you” – 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo) – or even “thanks for everything you do” – いつもありがとう (itsumo arigatou) – and rest assured that your “I love you” will be conveyed.

How do you say “I love you” in your language? What has someone done for you that you realized they loved you? Let me know in the comments!

Summer Means… Ghosts?

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Summer means sun, vacations, the beach… and ghosts?

In Japan, ghosts or yuurei 幽霊 appear more often than usual during the summer, including family ancestors. The appearance of ancestors coincides with the Obon お盆 festival, a Buddhist festival where Japanese families return to ancestral family homes and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. The festivals held across Japan are accompanied by Bon odori 盆踊り, which are large dances meant to welcome back the spirits of the ancestors.

Hasedera in Kamakura

Hasedera in Kamakura – photo by kei

While in the US we associate ghosts and zombies mingling amongst the living with October and Halloween, Japanese ghosts tend to show up in July and August. In the run-up to the Obon season, there are a variety of obake yashiki お化け屋敷 or haunted houses to visit. This year there was even a haunted train, complete with zombies. And of course, the hospital-themed haunted house at Fuji-Q Highland is exceptionally popular during the Obon season. 

During Obon, lanterns are traditionally hung outside of homes to help light the way for the ancestors to return. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are set adrift in rivers, lakes, and the ocean to help guide the ancestors away again.

 

The holiday this year started off on Friday, with the newly-created Mountain Day or Yama no Hi 山の日 (which just started in 2016). The Obon festival lasts for three days in the middle of August (although the dates vary somewhat in different parts of Japan), and this year’s festivities are just winding down this weekend – accompanied by the usual traffic jam as people return to the large cities from the countryside.

What kind of holidays do you celebrate in the summer? What kind of holidays do you celebrate with your ancestors, ghosts, or other spooky things? Let me know in the comments!

5 Favorite Things About Japan

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It’s no secret that Japan is one of my favorite places. Even though I’ve only lived there for a short time as a student and visited for a week or a month at a time since that, every time I plan a trip I end up visiting Japan for the umpteenth time rather than visiting a country I’ve never been to before (although there are a lot of countries I haven’t visited yet).

So what is so great about Japan? I’ve met many people who have visited Japan, and when I ask them what their favorite thing about Japan is, I get just as many different answers. Here I’ve compiled a list of favorites, including both my experiences and those of people I know.

  1. Public Transportation
Train doors

Riding on the train – photo by kei

In the US you can’t get anywhere easily without a car. And streets, residences, and markets are laid out such that it’s not often feasible to just walk to the super market – it’s too far or too perilous to reach on foot. When you do use public transportation it can be grimy (think NY subways) or costly (taxi fares to downtown), or just really slow (how long do I have to wait for a bus?).

In Japan, public transportation is efficient, frequent, and clean. You can be sure that the train will be on time down to the minute – yes, 14:17 means that it will arrive at 2:17 PM on the dot – barring a disaster or accident, of course. If your apartment is far from the train station or eki 駅 you can ride your bike or take the bus to the station, then take the train to your destination. Taxis can be expensive, but the bus is often an inexpensive option, and you can look up bus or train schedules on your smart phone. No wifi? Find a 7/11 convenience store and you can connect to their 7-SPOT wifi. You can use the same ID and password for the Tokyo Metro wifi as well.

2. Public Toilets

Separate toilet rooms keep things clean – photo by kei

Toilets in Japan are something you need to experience yourself to truly understand and appreciate. Before I went to Japan, I wondered what the big deal about oto-hime and bidet was, but once I spent some time there I understood why people write articles about Japanese toilets. Japanese toilets have lots of bells and whistles, including seat warmers, buttons that emit flushing sounds, and a variety of bidet settings. At first the array of buttons is intimidating, but once you figure out what each button does, you will wonder how you ever lived without the button that plays a charming little tune.

Public toilets in Japan often contain these high-tech toilets. Some even have lids that open automatically when you approach. You often find the high-tech Western-style toilets in shopping centers and super markets. However, there are still Japanese-style toilets interspersed with the high-tech toilets in stores and train stations. Many parks have both low-tech Western-style toilets and Japanese-style toilets, or just Japanese toilets. These are the hole-in-the-ground type, which can be an adjustment for many Westerners, but when you need to go they are just as welcome as the Western-style toilets.

The abundance of public toilets available in Japan is quite helpful when you are exploring a new place, as you are usually not far from a public toilet. Even when I climbed Mt. Fuji there were public toilets available! (Due to the difficulty of accessing and cleaning the loo at 3000+ meters altitude, they request a small donation, and although this is honor-based, I am sure most visitors pay the small donation.) Public toilets in Japan are also incredibly clean. A public toilet in a park in the US can be pretty disgusting, but I’ve never been to a public toilet in Japan that I literally couldn’t use because someone mucked it up.

3. Fast Food

The number one thing that people comment on about their trip to Japan is the food. Even people who don’t eat sushi find the food to be delicious. Japan indeed does dining well, from traditional favorites to international cuisine, the food is always well made but at reasonable prices. The same is true for fast food in Japan. Whether it’s the internationally famous McDonald’s or Japan-based Mos Burger, fast food just seems better in Japan. Aside from Western hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Japanese udon and beef bowls count among the ranks of fast foods. The food choices are more varied and some of the places seem healthier than your typical fast food joints. Some of the fast food restaurants in Japan don’t even seem like fast food, and so sometimes you can fool yourself into thinking you’re eating healthier (although I haven’t checked the nutrition values).

You can even pick up frozen or refrigerated meals at the convenience store that taste almost fresh after you heat them up in the microwave. I’ve had 7/11 fish heated up in a microwave that tastes like it was freshly cooked. It’s hard to go back to US frozen food after that experience…

4. Mascot Characters

Japan essentially has the market cornered on cute. Cute accessories, cute characters, even cute food (like kyara-ben キャラ弁). That’s why Hello Kitty has endured worldwide for over 40 years and why I always stop at the capsule vending machines to get a new character key chain in game centers. One of my favorite Japanese things is mascot characters.

Japan has a mascot for everything – TV stations, stores, even every prefecture and city has its own mascot character. You may be familiar with the TV station NHK’s Domo-kun (どーもくん), the brown furry square monster, or Kumamon (くまモン), the black bear that is the representative of Kumamoto Prefecture. The mascot characters are my favorite cute characters, and I wouldn’t mind having a mascot for everything in my life. You can even meet the mascot characters if you get lucky. City mascots appear at festivals and other events, and store mascots sometimes wander about while you shop.

5. Sakura

Sakura

Sakura blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen – photo by kei

Spring is my favorite season, next to summer, and with spring comes cherry blossoms or sakura 桜, which bloom for a very short time across Japan. When it just begins to warm up, but before the rain falls, cherry blossoms bloom for a couple of weeks. The light pink blossoms all bloom at the same time, and then begin to fall or are washed away by the rain. The ephemeral nature of the cherry blossoms is very poetic, and has begun a primary symbol in Japanese culture.

When the cherry blossoms bloom, people come out for dates or in groups to view the cherry blossoms, taste sakura-inspired snacks and drinks, and consume alcohol in the parks. The warmer weather that accompanies the blooms and the short viewing period inspire crowds to congregate outdoors. Celebrating the coming spring and viewing the beautiful blossoms (hanami 花見) creates an atmosphere that is unique to these blooms.

Other seasonal events that bring out the crowds in Japan are the changing leaves in the fall, and the illuminations (seasonal lights) in the winter. The beach is a cool relief from the humidity of summer. Any season that you visit Japan offers specialty events and delicacies, and each offers a unique experience!

What are your favorite things about Japan? Do you agree with my list? What about your home country? Let me know in the comments!

Being Sick in Japan

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I hate being sick. I hate being sick away from home even more!

When I travel anywhere – within the US or to Japan – and especially when I fly, I usually get sick. Being in a small space with other people and sharing recycled air allows those nasty little bugs to invade.

At least when you are home and you get sick, you are in familiar surroundings and the medicine or foods you need to feel better are in easy reach. In a foreign country, you often have to figure out what medicine to buy in a language you haven’t entirely mastered, and then if you need to see a doctor that’s a whole other problem.

Getting Sick in Japan

So what happens when you get sick in Japan? I’ve gotten sick enough times that I’ve learned to be prepared for the eventuality.

If you are on a student visa or any visa that gives you access to healthcare, go to the doctor (isha 医者)! They have national healthcare and it will cost you nothing to very little to go to the doctor. As a student, I went when I got injured playing soccer. I had an X-ray and got some painkiller (I had a collision with another player, but it ended in just some bruises) and I walked out of the hospital without a bill.

If you’re a visitor, you don’t have access to the national healthcare system, but I got an IV drip (this is pretty common in Japan for flu and cold treatment) and some medicine the last time I was sick in Japan, and got out for under ¥5000 (~$45).  Some copays in the US can be more than that. You can also go to a pharmacy or convenience store, and explain your symptoms to the clerk (there are free Japanese-English dictionary apps available!). Ingredients are often listed in katakana and if you know the ingredients you are looking for, you can make educated guesses.

My advice? Figure out what kinds of (minor) illnesses you are most likely to get when you travel (if you get sick enough times, you’ll know). Bring medicine with you, just in case. I’d recommend bringing over-the-counter cold medicine if you’re going during the winter, or pain killer if you’re prone to headaches when you travel. If there’s anything you are prone to (like.. gasp.. diarrhea), pack medicine that you know works so you don’t have to find something when you’ve already gotten sick.

If you have a chronic condition that requires medication, of course you should be sure to bring it with you. But if it’s a narcotic or prescription strength, it’s a good idea to check and make sure that you can enter the country with it. Japan is a bit stricter on drugs than the US, and you don’t want to be stopped because of drugs that are legally in your possession. And don’t bring illegal drugs to Japan, because that’s just asking for trouble!

I’m Getting Better…

My Japanese husband and I have different ideas about comfort food and home remedies when it comes to being sick, and so when I bring back a cold I picked up on a business trip, we end up with an interesting meal plan.

Sometimes we eat ozosui お雑炊 – a soup with rice that’s almost like a porridge – and sometimes we eat chicken noodle soup. The most important thing about comfort food is that it soothes the symptoms of being sick, and often it isn’t the food itself but the memory of eating it as a child that makes you feel better. When both of us are really really sick we obtain calories from store-bought bottled smoothies (US) or from jelly drinks (Japan).

Usually Japanese people think that American medicine is too strong, while Americans think that Japanese medicine is not strong enough. My husband and I each have a different combination of American and Japanese medicine that we prefer for different symptoms, and thanks to his parents we have an abundant supply of both!

Sometimes I wonder if the perception of a certain medicine not being effective enough can affect the way that the medicine actually works – like a placebo effect. If you always used the same medicine to cure your cold, and you are positive that any other medicine won’t work, is it because it really doesn’t work, or because you don’t think it will work?

What is your favorite food when you are under the weather? What do you do to prevent illness? Have you ever had any problems with medicine in a foreign country? Let me know in the comments!

Coming of Age Day in Japan 成人の日

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In Japan, the second Monday of January marks the Coming of Age Day or Seijin no Hi 成人の日. On this day, anyone who turns 20 between April 1st of the previous year (2016) and April 1st of the current year (2017) officially becomes an adult in the eyes of Japanese society.

In addition to the new adults being able to vote, smoke, and drink in Japan, each ward holds a ceremony called seijin-shiki 成人式 to officially introduce the newly minted adults. Women wear special kimono with long sleeves, called furisode, and often with fur trim since it’s still winter. These are usually rented because they are quite expensive. Men can wear hakata, or traditional baggy pants, but most often they wear suits with ties.

Usually friends gather after the ceremony and celebrate at an izakaya or Japanese pub, at karaoke, or even in parks (but usually it’s pretty cold for this). Even if they haven’t officially reached 20 on the day of the ceremony, Japanese izakaya won’t card on this day.

Many new adults go to the shrine after the ceremony, to offer prayers for their future. Since the Coming of Age Day is close to the New Year, many people are still making their first trips to the shrines and it can be quite crowded!

Hasedera Temple, Kamakura

In recent years, participation in the Coming of Age Day ceremonies has declined. Some people say that not as many people are participating as they used to, and some people say that there just aren’t as many young people are there used to be (the aging society problem of Japan). While I don’t know the reason why participation is down, I know that my friends – in past years as well as this year – are very eager to participate!

What kind of celebrations does your country have for coming of age? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: It’s Not This Time of Year Without… Illumination

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Landmark Tower Yokohama Illumination

Photo Friday Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without… 

This week’s Photo Friday Challenge is perfect for the season – It’s not this time of year without… Illumination! Yesterday I talked about my Christmas wish list of things that remind me of winter in Japan, and today I have narrowed it down to the one thing that I miss most about Christmas in Japan. Illumination イルミネーション consists of Christmas light displays that range from local characters to famous Disney princesses.

Venetian Glass Museum

Santa’s escapades at the Venetian Glass Museum, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
– photo by kei

Crowds of people mill around the light displays, taking photos and enjoying the spectacle. Couples on a date, families with children, and spectators of all ages can enjoy the illumination. Despite the cold everyone enjoys the atmosphere of the season. While there are Christmas displays in major American cities too, Japan’s illuminations are a completely different event.

Tokyo Skytree Illumination

Tokyo Skytree Town Illumination – photo by kei

Visiting different illuminations in different cities gives you a small taste of the local culture, show off amazing creativity, and I love to try to visit as many as possible. For example, the Disney princesses are located throughout Tokyo in major shopping centers, etc. So if you visit each of the areas where the princesses are, you can take photos of all of them. I suppose it’s like collecting trading cards or Pokemon!

What completes your holiday season? What about holiday traditions from other countries that you enjoy? Let me know in the comments!

My Japanese Christmas List

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Happy December!

It’s the first day of December, and that has me in the Christmas mood. I was thinking about what I want for Christmas today, and the top thing on my list is a trip to Japan… However, due to financial constraints and job obligations, it looks like two tickets to the island nation will not be under my Christmas tree this year 。゚(゚´Д`゚)゚。

So, instead of taking a trip to the land of the rising sun, I made a list of things that would make my Christmas in America a little more like the holidays in Japan.

Japanese University Christmas Trees

Kotatsu 炬燵 – a small square table with a heater underneath, usually accompanied by a futon 布団 or heavy blanket, used to keep warm in the cold winter months

Kotatsu

You can also put a PC on a kotatsu for hours of gaming under a warm futon ^^;

Mikan みかん – a small orange, in season in the winter, often eaten while seated at a kotatsu

Christmas cake クリスマスケーキ – a sponge cake with cream and strawberries, not too sweet and in a perfect portion for two people, eaten during Christmas in Japan

Illumination イルミネーション – Christmas lights, big and fancy, done in a style special for each different location – I love strolling through light displays everywhere, from the high fashion streets of Ginza to a rural town at the foot of Mt Fuji

Christmas Illumination in Ginza

Christmas Illumination in Ginza

How does your Christmas list compare to mine? Is there a Japanese Christmas tradition that you would add? What about your favorite Christmas tradition from your own country? Let me know in the comments!