Is Japan Safe?

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It was creeping into the wee hours of Saturday morning, and the party that had begun Friday night was starting to wind down. I looked around at my friends crowded into the tiny Japanese apartment, then at Yuki, who lived in my direction, and asked her そろそろ行く? (“Shall we leave soon?”). She checked the time on her phone and shook her head. まだだよ。(“Not yet.”). I was puzzled because she looked as sleepy as I felt, but when I pressed her, she just said that it wasn’t a safe time to walk home.

I looked around the room and realized that no one else was leaving, either. Among the mix of Japanese and American exchange students, at least two were softly snoring with their backs leaning against the wall. Everyone else was just talking quietly amongst the remains of a few chuuhai cans and an empty potato chip bag. In this quiet rural town in Yamanashi prefecture, dotted by rice paddies and grape and peach farms, I couldn’t imagine it ever being anything other than safe. But once the dark began to melt into early dawn and the sky began to lighten, Yuki’s eyes met mine, we said our goodbyes to the others and headed home.

When you visit Japan, it’s hard to believe that it’s anything but safe. But while living in Japan as a student, I heard a few more times that the wee hours (between 3 am and dawn usually) were not a safe time to walk home, even in Yamanashi.

–So, you might ask, as many have asked me before, is Japan safe? Continue reading

How I Learned Japanese

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People often ask me how I learned Japanese, so I thought I would make a post about it. I’ve been studying Japanese through a combination of self study and formal classes for about half my life – that’s a long time!

If you are interested in learning or improving your Japanese, you should be aware that there is no magic trick to learn Japanese quickly and easily. If you have studied Japanese (or any foreign language), you know this is true. If you’re new to Japanese, it’s going to take some effort and dedication on your part to get anywhere near fluent.

But that moment when you can finally have conversations in Japanese without having to use a dictionary or wave your arms emphatically, it’s a pretty cool feeling. So even if it seems daunting, trust me, it’s worth it! For a little inspiration, here is my story of lifelong Japanese learning

Asakusa 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

Golden Week in Japan / ゴールデンウィーク

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Today (Thursday, May 5th) marked the end of Japan’s official Golden Week holiday. Golden Week – ゴールデンウィーク or simply GW – is a week of public holidays which many Japanese salarymen and other workers have off. During this week, Japanese people travel en masse out of urban centers to visit family, ancestors, and theme parks. This is the longest vacation period for many Japanese employees, and any days that aren’t covered by public holidays are either taken as paid holidays or the employer simply closes the office.

Fuji Sengen Shrine

The mass exodus of Japanese tourists means that streets and trains are crowded, and prices for travel skyrocket. Car accidents increase, and traveling on trains and buses becomes very uncomfortable. As a student traveling with my Japanese and American friends, it was a very fun trip because of the crowding. Japanese people that normally don’t acknowledge other people spoke to us, mostly asking questions about our studies, and it was like a Spring Break trip in the US, but without the typical spring break crowd. 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 9 – My University Reunion

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It’s spring! The cherry blossoms are blooming and the weather is getting warmer, but I am still thinking about my one-month trip to Japan in December 2014. After getting a haircut and meeting up with my fiancé’s friends, on Day 9 in Japan it was time to reunite with my Japanese friends from when I studied abroad in Yamanashi prefecture.

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

2014年12月13日

I studied abroad in Yamanashi prefecture when I was an undergraduate, and honestly it was the best part about my university life. I always recommend study abroad to students I meet because I think it was a very important experience in my own life. Whether you study abroad in Japan or in any other country, I really can’t say enough about the benefits of studying abroad.

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My university in Yamanashi prefecture – photo by kei

Reunion

My university friends are from around Japan, but many of them ended up in or near Tokyo. Since I was visiting Tokyo, this made it the best place to meet up on Saturday. I really love the national train system, which makes getting around the country easy and convenient. Not everyone could attend, but I was happy that so many of us could hang out again, and some of my friends came from so far. It ended up being mostly the Japanese alumni and only one other American alumnus besides me (he lives in Japan).

We ended up meeting in Shinjuku at a restaurant called Hiryu’s, just outside of the west entrance to the Shinjuku station. It’s a nabe (鍋) restaurant, which is a hot pot, where you get to cook everything in a pan at your table. There are rooms available for reservation, so we reserved one for our large party. During December university clubs and work groups host bounenkai 忘年会, or end-of-year parties. A bounenkai is an all-you-can-eat type of banquet where you celebrate the ending of the year. The room next to ours was a bounenkai, and so we heard lots of toasts and boisterous stories coming from next door. Our gathering is a dousoukai 同窓会 or reunion party. Continue reading