In Japan

Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima

Living in Tokyo, I don't hear much about Fukushima's disaster recovery. Three years after the disaster, Tohoku's recovery only directly affects me through little donation boxes supermarkets and drug stores. The actual … [Read more...]

Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica

Vending machines selling school girl's panties?  Grown men reading pornographic comics in public?  Gender segregated train-cars to protect women from gropers? Ear-cleaning parlors with very happy-endings?  With situations … [Read more...]

The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher

Last week, we learned what a junior high night school was and, as I mentioned, today we are going to hear from a teacher of one of those schools. The person I interviewed just started as a junior high night school teacher … [Read more...]

Japanese Legal Loopholes: How Japan Looks Innocent While Breaking the Law

One of the big questions I asked myself while in Japan was "why?" Just "why." Not the usual, little "why's" that accompany a trip to a foreign nation like, "why are squatty potties so hard to use?" Rather, I couldn't help … [Read more...]

Japan’s Three Climates: A Virtual Journey Through the Wilds of Japan

This is a story about you. Three years ago, you began to feel restless. Not “ time to take up a new hobby” restless, but more like “time to travel the world and have exciting, new experiences” restless. So you came … [Read more...]

The Standard of Japanese Female Beauty: Ono no Komachi and the Akita Bijin

Ono no Komachi 小野小町 was a poet of unparalleled beauty and renown. Not only was she one of the most famous and well respected poets of the early Heian Period 平安時代, the golden age of Japanese poetry, but the rumor and awe … [Read more...]

Getting Down and Dirty with Japan’s Garbage

If you take a walk in a city in Japan, you might notice something. Where are all the rubbish bins!? Seriously, you’ve been carrying this empty onigiri wrapper around for an hour now and you just want, no need, to find … [Read more...]

Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good

In recent years, many people from different countries have been coming to Japan. Their reasons for studying Japanese are as various as their backgrounds. Due to this diversity, local governments have begun shifting their … [Read more...]

Hell’s Bells: Gamers Steer Animal Crossing up a Silent Hill

There’s no wrong way to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which, depending on the kind of person you are, can be extremely frustrating or tremendously liberating. In this Nintendo 3DS game, you are the new mayor and it’s … [Read more...]

10 Not-Japanese Foods Lost in Translation

Food is a great way to share culture, but sometimes it can be difficult. Like any other art, certain cultures value certain traits more than others. What's delicious to one may be disgusting to another. Add difficulty … [Read more...]

Interview with Medama-Sensei: The Racism-Battling Monk of YouTube

"In a couple of days, I will be gone for 1 year to become a buddhist monk in a forest monastery" is the Twitter post from last year that explained why one of my favorite Japan-video-makers had been absent on Youtube for a … [Read more...]

The In-between Island: Tsushima and the Sō Pt 2

If you haven't read Part 1 in this series, make sure to go back and read it, before starting this one. Part 2 will make more sense and you won't be missing out on all the cool drama, intrigue, cultural faux pas, and … [Read more...]

The 3 Arrows of Abenomics Explained!

If you've been paying attention to recent Japanese news you may have come across this term called "Abenomics". The term's origins come from Ronald Reagan's economic policies, "Reaganomics". Thus Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's … [Read more...]

JAPANESE GHOSTS!! Everything You Want to Know Explained by Zack Davisson

Ghost stories have been big in Japan for about as long as there's been Japanese literature. When they were first written down in the Heian period, at the same time as the classic Tale of Genji, there were enough to fill a … [Read more...]

A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part II

In the the previous Japanese names article we learned the history of Japanese family names and about the complicated 氏姓 (Uji-Kabane) naming systems. Do you recall my mention of a new naming system, 名字 (Myouji/Azana), … [Read more...]

The Island Inbetween: Tsushima and the Sō Family

You may have never heard of the island of Tsushima, but for hundreds of years it was the door between Japan and Korea. Tsushima’s location was ideal for international trade, situated roughly fifty kilometers from the … [Read more...]

The Cicadas’ Song: Japan’s Summer Soundtrack

Japan's summers ring in to an annual soundtrack.  The melody rides the humid summer breeze from the mountains, down through the forests and along the rivers and roads.  Although the musicians prefer the trees, their … [Read more...]

Tracing the History of Japan’s Mythical Lion Dogs

If you’ve ever been to a shrine in Japan, odds are you’ve seen a pair of dog-like lions flanking the entrance. If you’ve been to Okinawa you’ve seen them just about everywhere. In fact you can see some variation on these … [Read more...]

A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part I

In modern times, there are 4 ways to write/say family names in Japanese: 氏 (shi) 姓 (sei) 名字 (myouji) 苗字 (myouji) But why are there so many and what are the differences? In order to get the answer, you simply … [Read more...]

Kitsune: The Real and Fantastic Japanese Fox

In every culture there are beliefs about animals that are so basic, we don't even quite realize that they are folklore. In English we talk about the lazy pig and the wise owl, even though most of us have never met one … [Read more...]

The Delicious Road: a Japanese Dessert Journey

When it comes to cross-cultural experiences, some things are more universal than others. For instance, outsiders might find it difficult to understand the Japanese phenomena of deliberately crooked teeth, refrigerated … [Read more...]

Becoming a Child in Japan: Learning Through Curiosity and Humility

If you're an adult in your home country, you have an idea of who you are, how others see you, and how to act in a way that reflects how you want to be treated. However, when living abroad in a country whose language and … [Read more...]

Top 10 REAL Pokemon You Can Find in Japan!

I think everyone has wished Pokemon were real at some point in time, and being a fan of the colorful and powerful roster of pocket monsters can make it easy to forget the majesty of our mundane world's animal kingdom. If … [Read more...]

Badass Chicks in Japanese History: Murasaki Shikibu

Second in a series chronicling—you guessed it—female badassery in Japan. As you might have guessed from the inaugural article in this series, the sword-slinging samurai Tomoe Gozen seems like a tough act to follow. That … [Read more...]

Weird Kanji – Unusual Readings and their Origins

Good old kanji! You know, the 50,000 some odd characters borrowed from Chinese that are used to read Japanese? They're daunting at first, but get easier once you know the rules. There's the on’yomi and kun’yomi readings, … [Read more...]

A Bridge Across Time

Nagasaki’s Megane-bashi (Spectacles Bridge) got its name from the way the reflection of its double arches in the river combine with the bridge itself to look like a pair of glasses. In addition to its historical … [Read more...]

Let’s All Get NAKED! Onsen and Body Image

There’s nothing better than slipping into a hot bath. You feel your muscles relax. The cares of the day float away on a cloud of steam. A butt-naked Oba-chan (old woman) is staring at you… wait! What?! Does that seem … [Read more...]

10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives

There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring … [Read more...]

Five Ways To Experience Japan Without Leaving Home

I’m sure for a lot of us, visiting or living in Japan is high on our list of things to do. But when you can’t make the trip overseas, there are lots of ways to experience Japan without getting on a plane. In fact, some of … [Read more...]

Lords of Kumamoto: Kato Kiyomasa and the Hosokawa

Last fall I visited Kumamoto Castle. Though mostly a reconstruction, it’s impressive nonetheless. There is currently a regular live show on the castle grounds, in which actors dressed as famous samurai stage mock fights … [Read more...]

A Crash Course in Japanese Poetry

I remember reading Japanese poetry for the first time in the second grade. Don’t ask why it stuck with me; I just remember reading a haiku by Matsuo Bashō and thinking it was awesome. I remembered it well enough that I … [Read more...]

Namahage – Akita’s New Year’s Ogres

泣く子はいねがぁ / “Are there any crybabies here?” may not be something you want to hear shouted through your door on New Year's Eve, but the people of Akita Prefecture, specifically Oga Peninsula, feel differently. The Namahage / … [Read more...]

How To Shoot A Samurai Film

A couple of months ago I went to TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA, which is both a theme park and an active movie set. The studio has been around since about 1955. But, with the decline in popularity of traditional samurai films the … [Read more...]

Introducing Introduction: Mastering Jikoshokai and the ALT Self-Intro Class

Hajimemashite! It’s nice to meet you! If you come to Japan you’re going to find yourself saying this quite often. Introductions are very important in Japanese culture. It can be seen as an extension of the Japanese … [Read more...]

Surviving Sports Festival

In Japan, summer’s end ushers in a nationwide school tradition. Students, teachers, family, and other guests gather for a day of outdoor events known as undoukai (運動会) or sports festival. Undoukai offers something for … [Read more...]

Top Ten Real Life Kaiju of Japan

Movies like Pacific Rim and the thankfully-better-than-last-time American Godzilla have been rekindling a love for giant monsters. Kaijū have been igniting the imaginations of children everywhere since dudes in rubber … [Read more...]

Three Legs Are Better Than Two: Japanese Soccer and the Legend of Yatagarasu

Here in Japan, the heat and humidity of summer have crept up on us, providing the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the 2014 FIFA World Cup - uchiwa in hand. Despite Samurai Blue’s (as the Japanese national team is often … [Read more...]

Can You Dig It? Of Love and Earwax

Forget hugs and kisses. Throw away your candy, flowers and rings. If you want to truly express love for someone, clean their ears. Is It a Love Story? Image from the anime, Hen Zemi (変ゼミ) Perhaps you’ve seen it in … [Read more...]

Is Japan Really “Conservative”?

I don’t think that I’m the only one who has experienced this but I often hear the word “conservative” being applied to Japan. At first I just accepted it as being true - because Japan is very obviously conservative on many … [Read more...]

Meet the Ogasawara Islands!

Ah, Tokyo, that shining island paradise. Turquoise waters. Palm trees and coconuts. Grass skirts and piña coladas. What’s that you say? These images don’t leap to mind when I say “Tokyo”? Well, to be fair, grass … [Read more...]

Translation, Localization, and Nice Japanese Things: A Q&A with Matt Alt

When it comes to Japanese pop culture, I'm like a lot of fans. Despite years of off-and-on attempts at study, I don't know the language well enough to follow the original versions of manga, anime, or live-action drama and … [Read more...]

The Evolution of Karate

Karate stands alongside the likes of judo, kendo, and sumo as one of Japan’s most famous martial arts. However, as Karate Kid II taught us, karate was born in Okinawa. Not only that, but it was born in a time when Okinawa … [Read more...]