Everything you need to know about properly giving credit in Japanese


The Ultimate Guide to Citing Japanese Sources

Whether you’re in high school, college, or grad school, you need to know how to cite your sources. Guides and styles litter the internet but the moment you have to cite something that isn’t in English all of those sources of knowledge seem to dry up. That’s where we come in! You’re about to learn everything there is to know about citing Japanese sources and making your works cited/bibliography page with those sources. Let’s get started.

What is a Colophon?

A colophon is something you’re probably familiar with but never knew it had a name. It’s that page at the beginning of a book that looks a little something like this:

Citing Japanese Sources Colophon Example

It has all the information you need to write a citation, nicely organized into one easy to access place. Whether you’re citing in MLA, Chicago, or APA, everything you need should be here. It has some extra info you don’t need, like what font they used, but it’s going to be your best friend regardless.

In Japanese this is called 奥付 (おくづけ). These colophons are a little different from the ones your probably used to. They contain way more information than English language ones usually do. The terms they use can change simply for style purposes, and they are almost always at the back of the book (but sometimes they’re at the front like English ones). This may sound daunting at first, but once you know what you’re looking for it’s actually quite simple!

Important Terms

Knowing what the colophon is will help, but not if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here’s what you need to have a complete citation:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Publisher
  • Place of Publication
  • Date of Publication

That’s all well and good, but if you don’t know those terms in Japanese they aren’t very helpful. Learn these words:

  • 著 / 著者 – Author
  • 発行所 / 出版社 – Publisher
  • 出版 / 発行日 / 発行の年月日 – Date of Publication

The title should be pretty obvious, it’s going to be on the cover and usually at the top of the colophon. The date is also pretty easy to find since it should be in roman numerals, but if you’re using a super old, dusty book it might be written with the Japanese date. If you see something like 昭和64 (Showa 64) that was 1989. But so was Heisei 1. Make sure to brush up on your Japanese calendar skills if you need to. Whenever you encounter these dates, change them over to the western calendar and use roman numerals.

If you’d like to know what the rest of the information you’re looking at is, take a look at this vocabulary list:

  • 発行者 – Publisher (Person)
  • 発行人 – Publisher / Issuer (Person)
  • 印刷者 – Printer
  • 印刷所 – Printing Office / Press
  • 編集 – Editor
  • 組版所 – Typesetter

Edition Information:

  • 初版 / 初版発行 – First Edition
  • 〜版発行 – (number) Edition
  • 第〜版発行 – (number) Issue / Edition
  • 印行 – Reprinting

Less common nowadays:

  • 本文製版 – Text Printing
  • 印刷 – Printing
  • 製本 /製本所- Book Making / Binding / Book Bindery
  • 製版所 – Platemaking shop

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to learn this kind of thing is with examples and practice. Here are a few colophons. Let’s find the information we need to make a citation with some manga!

Citing Japanese Sources Terra Formars Colophon

Author: 貴家悠
Title: テラフォーマーズ
Publisher: 株式会社集英社
Place of Publication: 東京都
Date: 2012

Citing Japanese Sources Gantz Colophon

Author: 奥 浩哉
Title: GANTZ -ガンツ-
Publisher: 株式会社集英社
Place of Publication: 東京都
Date: 2000

That wasn’t so bad, right? And they were very similar in style and used all the same terms. That’s because, as you now know, they were both published by the same publishing company 株式会社集英社 which translates to Shueisha Publishing Co., Ltd. and is one of the biggest manga publishing companies in Japan.

Style and Consistency

Before we go over what to do with this information, you have to decide what style you’re going to use. It doesn’t really matter which one you pick, as long as you are consistent throughout your paper and works cited page. Some stylistic choices you get to make are:

  • MLA, Chicago, or APA
  • Japanese or English
  • Italics or No Italics

Your teacher/professor might choose that first one for you. Most of my professors preferred Chicago Style because of it’s simple, straightforward citations. But you might have to follow a different one. Make sure you follow whatever those guidelines may be throughout your entire paper! You may never encounter APA (it’s mainly used for psychology), so you should probably only focus on MLA and Chicago.

Using Japanese and/or English is the more fun and challenging decision you get to make. But if you provide both Japanese and English for one citation, you have to do it for all of them. That means translating non-translated titles and author names. If your professor doesn’t speak Japanese you should probably provide English for their convenience. If your professor is Japanese and you’re at a Japanese school you can stick with just Japanese. You can also choose to ditch the Japanese all together and only use English, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Especially if you’re using a Japanese-only source. Your professors might not like having to work harder to find what you’re referencing.

Within your paper you’ll need to decide whether you should or should not use italics when using romaji. If you’re only using Japanese words in Japanese, you should not italicize them. Ever. Please don’t, it’s hard to read and looks terrible. But with romaji, it can be helpful for clarification reasons if you at least italicize Japanese words the first time you use them. Then you can leave them as is. Or you can choose to always italicize them. But never ever sometimes do and sometimes don’t. If you’re going to do one word one way, you need to treat the rest the same.

Works Cited

Your works cited/bibliography is where we put all this new knowledge to work. Once you pick your style, look up the guidelines, and put everything in the right place. This is where you make most of your stylistic choices. Are you using all Japanese, all English, or a mix? Choosing this before you start will make everything go much faster. And if you make your Works Cited before you write your paper, your in text citations will be more organized and easy to do.

After you decide what style you’re going to use, you need to know a few important things about citing Japanese sources:

  • Last name always comes first in Japanese AND English
  • If you include English for one title you must include English for them all
  • Use macrons, or do not

When citing using Japanese you should always use Japanese name ordering. That means surname first and given name second. You might be thinking, but isn’t that how all citations are done? Kind of. But you do not add a comma after the surname, like you would with an English language citation.

If you decide to provide English for a Japanese title, which can be pretty easy if it’s been translated, you need to do it for all of them. This can be a pain if you realize you’re using something that has never been translated or talked about in English. This means translating the title yourself. If you aren’t comfortable with that, don’t use any English at all. If you think that’s fun and want some practice (or if your professor requires English and Japanese) give it a try!

Macrons are the long marks, or diacritical marks, you see over vowels to indicate that they are long (also called “heavy”). They let us know that you’re saying よう and not よ.

They look like this: ā ī ū ē ō

You’ll probably only see ū and ō, because they are the most common, but it is possible to see the others. If you decide to use them, you need to use them the whole time. That means you need to know your romaji well. The only exception for this is when a company or person has a specific stylized preference to their English name. If that’s the case, like it is with Shueisha (technically Shuueisha or Shūeisha), then it’s common to choose whatever their preference is to avoid misunderstandings.

Once you’ve figured all that out it’s time to get citing! Below are citations in MLA, Chicago, and APA for the Terra Formars manga we cited above.


貴家悠. テラフォーマーズ. 東京都: 株式会社集英社, 2012. Print.

Sasuga Yuu 貴家悠. Terra Formars テラフォーマーズ. Tokyo 東京都: Shueisha Inc. 株式会社集英社, 2012. Print.

Sasuga Yuu. Terra Formars. Tokyo: Shueisha Inc., 2012. Print.


貴家悠. テラフォーマーズ. 東京都: 株式会社集英社, 2012.

Sasuga Yuu 貴家悠. Terra Formars テラフォーマーズ. Tokyo 東京都: Shueisha Inc. 株式会社集英社, 2012.

Sasuga Yuu. Terra Formars. Tokyo: Shueisha Inc., 2012.


貴家悠. (2012). テラフォーマーズ. 東京都: 株式会社集英社.

Sasuga Yuu 貴家悠 (2012). Terra Formars テラフォーマーズ. Tokyo 東京都: Shueisha Inc. 株式会社集英社.

Sasuga Yuu. (2012). Terra Formars. Tokyo: Shueisha Inc.

(If you decided that you wanted to use macrons, Sasuga Yuu’s name would look like this: Sasuga Yū.)

In Text Citations

In text citations are formatted the same as your works cited/bibliography page! Sometimes they are very similar, but there are usually small differences.


MLA loves to be short and sweet. You put the author’s last name and the page number(s) you are citing in parenthesis after the quote or piece of information.

The first character to die has her neck snapped by one of the creatures (Sasuga 30).

Sasuga kills the first character within minutes of introducing her (30).

Sasuga’s first female character’s neck went, “Crack” (30).


Chicago uses footnotes and endnotes. They’re indicated with numbers either at the end of each page (footnotes) or at the end of the paper (endnotes). Once you’ve cited something once in text, you get to shorten the rest of the citations that use the same work from then on.

  1. Sasuga Yuu 貴家悠. Terra Formars テラフォーマーズ. (Tokyo 東京都: Shueisha Inc. 株式会社集英社, 2012), 3-40.
  2. Sasuga, Terra Formars, 3-40.

Make sure you remember to add page numbers when you cite in text.


APA loves footnotes too, but these are more about elaboration than citation of where you got the information from. You should be citing in text with quotations like MLA does. They also really like dates, which makes sense since this is mostly used for psychology.

The main character yelled, “Aki” (Sasuga, 2012, p. 45-46), exactly six times after she died.

Supplemental Practice Citing Japanese Sources

If you’d like to test what you’ve learned you can! Below are three pdfs that you can use for practice. Use them to make your own works cited page and compare it to the answer sheet!



The Best Teaching Resources for Superstar JET Program ALTs

Going on JET is a lot like being an English-teaching commando. You get recruited by a large government organization, given a quick mission briefing, and are deployed. From there, you’re mostly on your own.

This is an exaggeration, of course, but it certainly can feel that way sometimes. Because ALTs get sent to so many kinds of schools with such specific needs, it’s hard to give advice that’s not broad, general, and somewhat useless.

The very best training you can get for your job comes from your JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English), your predecessor, and your fellow JETs. Your JTEs will give you a good idea of how the school is run and your predecessor will help you understand your specific function in your school. But your fellow JETs are by and large the most helpful resource for your teaching. They are the Borg collective of team teaching, swollen with knowledge and experience you can benefit from. Sadly, you’ll only get together to formally discuss teaching strategies once a year at the Skill Development Conference. Two days once a year is not nearly enough help for a brand new ALT.

This is where the internet comes in. Thankfully, the heartbeat of the modern ALT is digital and English teaching expertise has been slowly trickling onto the internet. Even CLAIR and other once-distant official organizations have begun to dispense helpful (though well-hidden) teaching resources online.

This article is my best effort to organize as much of this online ALT English-teaching wisdom into one place. There’s a ton of information and help out there, though it’s often buried in forum posts, wikis, and older websites from 2004.

Get ready to intercept Tofugu’s covert communique, ALT Commandos. This is the training you never got.

Resources from Official Sources

The official AJET Planet Eigo logo for JET Program ALTs

These are resources from on high. They are official or officially affiliated with the official. Considering the lack of training from CLAIR, it’s nice to have something from the higher ups that say, “Hey there, buddy. We didn’t forget aboutcha. Have some nice, helpful things.”

CLAIR’s ALT Handbook

This is JET’s official stance on JET. Take this as an idea of how your job should work, not necessarily how it will work in reality. Nonetheless, having CLAIR’s official word on the ALT job can be pretty helpful in forming routines and ideas as you get started at your school.

Get: The official word on your job

CLAIR’s Teaching Materials Collections

CLAIR goes a step further with an offering of lessons and games for all grades and extracurricular activities. And they’re pretty darn good. Consider this your backpack full of survival supplies from the organization that air dropped you into your mission.

Thanks government! Like for real. That wasn’t sarcastic. These are really good lessons.

Get: Your survival gear

AJET’s Planet Eigo and Foxy Phonics

AJET is the Association for JET which is made up of current ALTs. AJET offers support, resources, and activities for all current JET participants. Though technically independent, AJET has close contact with CLAIR, making them kind of an official JET entity. Their books, Planet Eigo and Foxy Phonics, used to be available only in purchasable book form, but are now offered online free of charge. Planet Eigo especially is a wonderful collection of games and activities from JET ALTs from across the country. And because this is published by AJET, you know the materials are the best of the best.

Get: Planet Eigo and Foxy Phonics

British Councils’ ALT Handbook

This handbook can be considered partly official, because it was a joint effort between the British Council and MEXT. The UK entity gives their two pence on what an ALT should be. And it’s pretty damn helpful. This pdf guide covers a lot of ins and outs of behavior and best practices for the job. It makes a nice counterpoint to CLAIR’s official version. Consider it a great second opinion on how your job should work.

Get: Job advice from England

Resources from Your Fellow JETs

JET Program ALTs at a hanami party

Your comrades in team-teaching will be your best source of ideas, inspiration, and morale. Thanks to our wonderful internet, you can extend that powerful connection beyond your own prefecture and to all the JETs in all of 日本!

All prefectures have their own Facebook page, but some have built extensive websites and wikis chock full of info. The best of this info, of course, is the teaching materials.

Kumamoto JET Lesson Wiki

The home of everyone’s favorite KimoKawaii bear gives us an entire wiki devoted to lessons and teaching materials. All lessons are divided by level with additional lessons for eikaiwa, special needs, and warmups. The lessons are generally very detailed and sometimes offer downloadables to help in executing them. Bookmark this one because you’ll be going back.

Get: Kumamon’s lesson plans

Even more teaching resources from KumamotoJET

Oh, did you think Kumamoto was finished? The power of Kumamon imbues them with otherworldly teaching powers. The official KumamotoJET website (separate from the wiki) offers three collections of lessons from Skill Development Conferences. Presumably these are from days before the wiki, but they’re nice to have and worth checking out.

Get: A second helping of Kumamon help

AkitaJET’s Teaching Resources

The JETs of Akita Prefecture go above and beyond with not only a website, but an entire wiki. Aside from having useful information about life in the region and the JET experience in general, there is a whole ton of teaching materials you can use to beef-ify your arsenal. Some of the activities are explained in a brief and overly simple manner. But there’s so many to choose from, it’s hard to complain. In addition there are articles about team teaching and snippets of advice from former ALTs.

Get: A large quantity of simple lessons

SagaJET Teaching Resources

The JET ALTs of Saga-ken have gathered their teaching powers into a shareable Google Drive and organized them by level. Also, everything is printable, making them great for building your arsenal. Print out as many as are relevant to you and store them in your desk for those last minute emergencies.

Get: Last minute lesson ideas

SpeakRaku from KobeJET

SpeakRaku is a colorful and fun collection of lessons and info for JETs at all kinds of schools. The lessons are arranged by level and also indicate grade, time needed, grammar points, objectives, and materials needed. If that weren’t enough, SpeakRaku contributors also share stories, tips, and tricks that will smooth out the ALT experience. The super hip layout can be distracting and make it hard to find what you’re looking for, but keep searching. It’s worth it.

Get: Well organized lessons and advice

NagasakiJET’s Hello English Picture Dictionary

Nagasaki’s JET ALT community put together a nice pdf picture dictionary with great illustrations and material separated by grade. The best part about this is that it’s made specifically for Elementary grades 1-4, the four grades of school that do not have compulsory English education. Because it’s not compulsory, there is no official curriculum for these grades and thus ALTs are generally on their own when planning lessons for these classes. Thankfully there ALTs like the ones in Nagasaki that pull together to create resources for the rest of us.

Get: Lessons for grades 1-4

NiigataJET’s Teaching Resources

NiigataJET has so many notable teaching resources, I’m gonna talk about them individually.

Firstly, are resources collected from their Skills Development Conferences in pdf format. That means every time the ALTs of Niigata got together to share their best lessons, they compiled them and made them available to you! How nice.

Get: Niigata’s best lessons

The second nice thing about our friends from Niigata, they also uploaded slide presentations from their Skill Development Conferences. These mid year seminars are probably the most valuable work related training JETs get, because it involves more than just sharing resources. It involves ALTs and JTEs talking frankly about problems in the classroom and offering solutions. Download one or all of these presentations and skim through them. You won’t be disappointed.

Get: Classroom advice beyond teaching

The best contribution from them, though, is their team-teaching flow chart. It’s a one page document that outlines how an average team-teaching session should go, beginning, middle, and end. While nothing groundbreaking, it’s nice to get a visual explanation for your job that just might spark some ideas for improvement.

Get: Team-teaching flowchart

AomoriJET’s Collection of Best Lessons

At Aomori’s Skill Development Conference, they did a little thing called “Bring Your Best Lesson” or BYBL. This is similar to what Niigata did (see above), but this is a different group. Different people means different (sometimes better) ideas. Any time you can get your hands on a brainstorm of teaching materials, do it!

Get: AomoriJET’s Greatest Hits

JETSendai JHS Lessons

Sendai JETs have compiled what might be the ultimate resource for Junior High ALTs. Sorry, High School and Elementary, but there’s plenty for you elsewhere. This site is super well-organized. Not only are lessons separated by year, they even outline on the menu which lessons work on speaking, reading, writing, and listening.

Get: The most organized bunch of JHS lessons on the internet

ToyamaJET’s Teaching Resources

Toyama’s website is a bit tough to navigate but the content is worth it, first and foremost being the team teaching handbook. This has got all your lessons. Besides that is a nice series of drop down menus which offer guides to life in Elementary, Junior, and High School, with extra sub sections for Mid-level, High-level, and Technical High Schools. Sometimes these little descriptions of school life can do a world of good in helping you understand your job.

Get: Great explanations of school life

FukuokaJET Raps About Life

While FukuokaJET doesn’t offer teaching help per se, they do offer a nice collection of experience excerpts that outline very specific school circumstances. If you find yourself in a situation on JET that’s different than those of other JETs, check out these pages to get some perspective and ideas on dealing with it.

Get: Advice from people who, like, get you, y’know?

KagawaJET’s Sunshine and Hi Friends help page

Almost all elementary schools use the textbook series “Hi, Friends!” for grades 5 and 6. There are teacher’s books that go along with these, but they’re all in Japanese. Thankfully, AkitaJET has translated them and made the translations creative commons. A resourceful KagawaJET put these translations in PDF format for easy printing (huzzah!). Additionally, Kagawa offers a Keyword Maker for the “Sunshine English” line of junior high school English textbooks. So if you’re teaching from these books and need to know, say, what words your second year students should study for chapter 4, input the info into the fields and presto! A printable sheet of words and examples sentences you can use for making lessons. Now that’s fancy.

Get: Printable versions of the “Hi, Friends!” teacher’s books

Resources from Japan ALTs

ALTs in Japan discuss teaching resources

Photo by ijiwaru jimbo

Your fellow JETs do offer a lot of help, as evidenced above. But JET ALTs are actually just part of the larger Japanese ALT community in Japan. And this community, both JET and non-JET alike, have created a wealth of independent websites to help you plan better lessons and become a more engaging teacher.


This is your number one stop for English teaching help on the internet. Englipedia boasts an active community of ALTs from all across Japan that constantly add lessons and converse about the English teaching experience. In addition to resources, there’s a blog, forum, and articles designed to help better you as a teacher. One more perk, no ads or pop-ups which are pretty prevalent on most ESL resource sites. Oh wait, also it’s free.

Get: The best English teaching help on the internet


This site is definitely a jackpot. Altastic boasts a lot of unique resources that go beyond downlaodable worksheets. There are games and other interactives to be had. If you don’t have wi-fi at school, there are download options for offline use. My favorite idea from this website is their Vocablinator. If you need to know what words your students should know by a certain point, type it into the Vocablinator, and it will reveal exactly what book, chapter, and page number it can be found in. Right now, only the Sunshine textbooks are covered, but they are working on adding the 5 other major junior high textbooks. If you’re an ALT in Japan right now, you can contribute by using their Uploadinator to add data to their project.

Get: A searchable database of English textbooks used in Japan

Super Simple Learning

Their name simply says learning, but most of their songs and lessons are English related and they have a Japanese version of the page, so it’s safe to say the content was made with ESL in mind. The reason I recommend it is because of the high quality of their video production. Top notch animation and puppetry are bound to grab Elementary age learners. They sell a few things, which may be helpful or annoying depending on who you are.

Get: Fun puppet videos


A sadly defunct website about living and working in Japan. It’s a pain to navigate properly, but it does categorize blog posts by topic, which is handy in its own way. The teaching materials are mostly for junior high, but they have a nice archive of blog posts called “Worksheet Sunday” which are worth a look. Too bad it’s not updated anymore. Coulda been one of the greats.

Get: Old but helpful lessons

Let’s Teach English

This is a great site with junior high level lessons built around the New Crown textbook. The site looks nice and is easy to navigate. The lessons are varied and detailed, offering a lot of explanation. A definite winner for JHS ALTs.

Get: Lessons for the New Crown textbook


An older blogspot built around the Eigo Note series of elementary textbooks. Though Eigo Note is not as widely used anymore, the lessons can easily be applied to 5th and 6th graders using any book. There’s also some nice teaching tips for doing a self intro, opening and closing class, etiquette, and so forth.

Get: Lessons for the Eigo Noto textbook

Japan Teaching Resource Facebook Group

The name says it all: a Facebook group for English teachers in Japan. The feed is constantly full of helpful discussions and classroom shareables, many of which are labeled for level within level (ie. low-level high school). Having over 1800 ALTs at your fingertips is an awesome opportunity to get feedback on situation specific problems you might be having, and to discuss the realities of ALT teaching, even if they’re not pretty.

Get: Teaching ideas from Facebook

ALT JTE Connect

A recently defunct ALT resource blog, with a nice interface and some great ideas. There’s 4+ years of archived posts full of free downloads, worksheets, and teaching ideas.

Get: 4 years worth of ideas

English Web Book

Hot Dog! This website has a ton of activities for all three levels of junior high and they are categorized by textbook. The books covered are Columbus, New Crown, and the big daddy New Horizon. If that weren’t enough, each activity also tells you which page it corresponds to in each book. If you’re a junior high ALT teaching from one of these 3, you’ve got it made.

Get: Activities specific to JHS textbooks

Resources from ESL Teachers

An ESL Teacher at work

Beyond ALT teaching in Japan, there is the vast world of of ESL, taught in countries all over the world. There’s a lot to learn by stepping outside the realm of Japan-specific English teaching and seeing how other teachers and students work in different places. Below is a list of resources that are highly regarded in ESL circles.

International TESL Journal

Welcome to the peak of ESL intellect. Though the journal publication appears to have ended in 2010, the website is still being maintained. This site offers lessons as others do, but the real treasure is in the articles. If you’re stuck in an English teaching rut and need tips on how to improve your life in the classroom, these articles will help get your mind thinking in a new way. Similarly, the section labelled “Techniques” offers more in-depth writing on ESL teaching improvements. Some of my favs so far are:

Before passing up their lessons section, give it a thorough look. The teachers who contribute to this site are top in their field, and their lesson ideas are a bit more detailed and creative than those you might find on other teaching sites.

Get: Scholarly and creative lessons and articles about teaching ESL


Maintained principally by a group of teachers in South Korea, Lanternfish, sports a whole slew of content. Games, flash cards, puzzles, conversations, creative writing materials, phonics, articles, and more. High school ALTs at high level schools stand to benefit the most from this site, which is great because most Japan-specific resources focus on elementary and junior high. If this site could get rid of their ads, they’d be golden.

Get: English lessons from a different perspective

Dave’s ESL Cafe

This site is rather famous in the ESL/TESL world, so much so that the JET Program mentions it in its official application as a checkbox for “How did you hear about the JET Programme?” This site becomes incredibly relevant when JETs finish their contracts but want to continue teaching in Japan or elsewhere. But on JET there’s some use for this site as well. The “Idea Cookbook” section is a collection of 24 categories, each with 40+ ideas.

Get: 24 categories of lesson ideas

MES English

There is a lot on this site, though it’s all mostly geared toward elementary and Eikaiwa students. Unfortunately, the design and ads make it tough to search through. But don’t let that discourage you from at least checking to see if anything on it is relevant for you. My personal favorite feature is the custom worksheet maker (under a different domain, but created by the same guy), which allows you create all kinds of mazes, crosswords, and handwriting pages. The interface is a little clunky, but for certain tasks it may be easier than making it yourself in a document or image editor.

Get: Elementary English lessons

Dream English

Kids seem to really love this guy and his guitar singing easy English songs with puppets. Though the video quality is a bit more basic than those at Super Simple Learning, his English is more helpful and easier to understand for elementary Japanese students than SSL. The best part is, he offers most everything for free and clearly labels what’s for sale unlike some other ESL sites.

Get: Videos of a very enthusiastic man and his puppets

Many Things

This site isn’t pretty, but it loads fast and has a ton of content. It’s aimed at English learners, not teachers, so bear this in mind when going here for resources. This site has more building blocks for lessons than it does complete ones.

Get: Building blocks for English lessons


Packed with content made especially for people teaching English in foreign countries. Aside from the standard lessons and games stockpile, there’s a very active forum, which is probably this site’s standout feature.

Get: Some good discussion with other English teachers

Random Helpful Things

old tools in a pile

These aren’t lessons, materials, or resources for teaching English in Japan. But they will enhance your life on JET if you explore them a little.


The Japan Association for Language Teaching is a professional organization with chapters all across Japan. If you’re interested in furthering your career in English teaching after JET or simply want to get support and resources while on JET, JALT is probably the best place to do that. Aside from gaining a support network of enlightened peers, you also get their bi-monthly magazine, their bi-annual research journal, reduced admission to JALT conferences, invitations to JALT groups and events, and a discount on Apple products. Non-members can still gain a lot by browsing their website, which offers pdf versions of past publications and other helpful materials. But why not join and get the all the best stuff you can?

Get: A ton of help and support from professional ALTs in Japan

Tosa English

If you’re lucky enough to be teaching high level students who crave new material to read and practice with, TOSA English has got you covered. Made for learners of English, this site’s got videos, music, and books made specifically for English learners. This would be perfect material to base an English club on.

Get: Material for English club

List of Japanese Grammar Terms

Starting out as an English teacher, you may not realize how much grammar terminology you may need to convey in Japanese. Thankfully, this forum post from ithinkimlost.com offers a handy reference sheet for the pronunciation and kanji for words like 母音 (vowel) and 述語 (predicate).

Get: Help with Japanese linguistic words

Never Stop Building Your Arsenal of Teaching Resources for JET Program Excellence

Teaching Resources for JET Program

Photo by Tim

Becoming a great English teacher doesn’t happen overnight. It won’t even happen the first year. It takes a lot of research, practice, and experimentation.

But as a JET English teaching commando, you can at least have fun scavenging for resources and materials to build your arsenal. Whether or not you plan on being a professional in the future, on JET you have the freedom to experiment and have fun with the job. Do your best, but make it your own. That’s the only way to ensure success without burnout. Here’s to the mission.

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This is only one article in our larger Tofugu JET Program Guide. It’s your experienced JET friend with the best knowledge and advice. Get help applying to JET, passing the interview, teaching, speeching, and more. The guide covers the JET experience from start to finish. It’s written by JET alumni and constantly updated.

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Takeda Castle In The Sky: The Japanese Machu Picchu

Right now we’re on top of Ritsuunkyo Mountain. What a gorgeous view. You can see the town below, streets, cars, and more. But there’s an amazing sight hiding right in front of your eyes. Can you see it? Try hard to find it.

the valley between two mountains in japan

On top of that mountain in the distance are the ruins of Takeda castle. Maybe you can’t see it from this distance.

looking at takeda castle

Now can you see the ruins? They’re the brownish jagged things amongst the green, leafy jagged things.

Hmmmm…maybe they’re still too hard to distinguish. Let’s get closer still.

view of takeda castle from far away

Okay, that’s as close as I can get with this camera. Now can you see it? To see the castle from this angle, I hiked Ritsuunkyo Mountain for 30 minutes to get to the top. This is a nice view of the ruins, but I bet you want to see them up close and personal. Like you could shake hands with the ruins if they had hands.

Well all right, then! Let’s meet the actual ruins.

takeda castle sign that points you where to go

Getting to the Takeda castle ruins can be a little tricky. It’s not near any trains stations so no trains go near it (it is on the top of a mountain after all).

If you are driving, just follow the signs, and continue to ascend the mountain until Yamashiro-no-sato. You can get there by bus, too. Or have your friend drive your car. It’s like a free, smaller bus.

takeda castle taxi

Once you get to Yamashiro-no-sato, it’s about a 40-minute walk to get to the castle. Or there is another more tempting option: a taxi and a 20-minute walk. Sorry, this is a mountain. There’s no away around the walking.

takeda castle taxi cab

I had just hiked to the top of Ritsuunkyo Mountain and the thought of hiking another one exhausted me, so I decided to take the taxi.

The taxi driver told me that the Japanese actor Junichi Okada used his taxi for a scene in one of his dramas and I was sitting in the exact seat that he had. Not surprisingly, I haven’t washed my butt since.

entrance to takeda castle

“Sorry. This is as far as I go,” the taxi driver will say to you. But it’s not because there is anything ominous ahead. It’s because the taxi can’t physically go any farther without crashing into a ravine. On second thought, crashing into a ravine is kind of ominous.

The taxi will bring you as far as this gate, which goes by the name Otemon.

takejii the mascot of takeda castle

While walking, I found this cute mountain character. Every place in Japan seems to have one of these mascot characters. His name is たけじぃ(Takejii), and this name was actually decided on by an elementary school kid in Asago City in Februray 2014. He has a mustache made of clouds, so I guess the kid combined “Takeda castle” and “Jiisan” (grandpa). Since he is a grandpa, his distinctive feature is “to get tired easily” and he loves Japanese sake and the local Iwatsu green onion. Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to know about Takejii. (If you want to keep your eye on Takejii, he has his own Facebook page, too.)

stairs up to takeda castle

And ta-da! Here we are.

The castle was built in 1441 and was conquered in 1577 by none other than famed warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He already had a castle so he gave this one to his brother Toyotomi Hidenaga. The last lord of the castle was accused of arson, so he committed suicide and the castle was abandoned. And that’s how ruins are made.

looking down from takeda castle

Even though the full castle isn’t here, the view makes this totally worth the trip. Pictures don’t do it justice.

amazing architecture of takeda castle

This place is commonly referred to as the Japanese Machu Picchu. Clouds often surround the mountain, making it look like a castle in the sky (more on that later). Thankfully, even if you come here on a clear day, like I did, it’s still magnificent.

takeda castle ruins in summer

During the cherry blossom season when all the blossoms are in bloom, in the fall when all the leaves change color and in the winter when the snow blankets the area, the beauty of the Takeda castle evolves to something wondrous. The changing seasons give you a reason to come back here again and again.

view from takeda castle

Hey look! It’s the mountain we were just on at the beginning of the article, Ritsuunkyo Mountain.

takeda castle glossy photo of clouds

As I mentioned just a while ago, this castle is often surrounded by waves of clouds and it looks as though it is floating in the sky, much like Machu Picchu.

I went near the end of April, so I wasn’t able to witness this whimsical scene. Your chance of seeing the clouds increases from the end of September to the beginning of April. Apparently, visiting on a sunny day following a rainy night, preferably during the early morning to about 8 a.m., drastically improves your chances.

Takeda Castle Rating

  • Uniqueness: 8/10 – It’s really cool to visit a castle so high up on a mountain. So I rated it an 8. The foundation is the only thing remaining, though. If the whole castle still stood there, I would have rated it a perfect 10.
  • Fun: 7/10 – It was enjoyable hiking the area and it was really nice to see all the beautiful scenery, so I rated it a 7.
  • Accessibility: 2/10 – It’s a combination of car+taxi+walk, train+bus+walk, or some combination of the two. It is not conveniently accessible.
  • Overall: 7/10 – I would like to come back here during a season better suited to its beauty, or on a day when I could see the castle “in the sky,” so I rated it a 7.


Rating: 7/10

Takeda Castle Access

  • Address: 169 Wadayamacho Takeda, Asago, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan 669-5252
  • Website: http://www.city.asago.hyogo.jp/kankou/eng/index-en.html
  • Admission: 500 yen (free for junior high school students and younger)
  • Hours: 9:00am-4:00pm (Mar 20-Sept 20), 3:00am-4:00pm (Sept 21st-Dec 10)


Japanese idol – It’s right there in the name. These cute starlets exist to be idolized. They sing, they dance, they appear on TV… but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. AKB48 and Morning Musume; efficient idol making machines like these produce new idols on a regular basis. There are over a hundred idol groups in Japan, each with somewhere between a handful and a hundred plus members.

With the advent of the idol came the birth of the idol otaku. In Japanese, the word “otaku” is a lot like the word geek. It refers to someone who is really into a certain thing. There are train otaku, food otaku, and probably even moss otaku.

In English, the word “otaku” refers to someone who is really into Japanese things, like anime. But in Japan, that word has a much broader usage. And yes, I happen to know an idol otaku. He was my classmate in high school. While I didn’t know him very well at the time, I wouldn’t have suspected that he would have gained such an intense interest in idols.

Fast forward some years and he is now a 29 year old lawyer who spends his free time following idols and participating in their many events. He would prefer to remain anonymous so we’ll refer to him by his pen name, オタ弁 (Otaben). He is actually famous within the idol otaku community. I suppose the people who follow him could be called “idol otaku otaku.” You can become one too by following him on Twitter. His handle is @otalaywer.

Japanese idol otaku with idols

We agreed to meet for the interview at a train station, which was an equally convenient location for both of us. I had only walked a few steps after getting off of the train when the flip phone that I had borrowed from my mother chimed in my purse. The text informed me that my interviewee was 5 minutes out. I spent that time finding the best place to stand for us to find one another. I had just posted myself outside the front gate when he emerged from the crowd of commuters. I soon learned that the signatures covering the tote bag he was carrying were signatures of idols, and that the contents that filled the bag were idol merchandise. Later on he told me that the bag itself was one of his most treasured items as it has the signatures of every member of The KOBerrieS♪, a well known idol group from Kobe. Although he showed up with this assortment of otaku-y things, he certainly didn’t look like someone you might expect to be carrying such a collection. I suppose that means I was somewhat guilty of buying into the otaku stereotype, as well. I knew then that I would learn something new that day.

I flagged him down with a smile and a slight bow. We said hello and yoroshiku onegaishimasu to each other and moved to a nearby cafe for the interview.

Once our coffees had been ordered, I jumped right into interview. My first question was very basic, “Which idols are you a fan of?” Instantly I saw a light sparkle through his gaze and the right side of his mouth began reaching for his ear. Asking this question was like asking a sommelier which wine was worth drinking and, with him being a self-proclaimed idol otaku, I believed he would have “good taste” when it came to this subject.

With a deep breath he started down his list, “Kaori Matsumura (SKE48), Chiho Matsuoka (NMB48), Kano Nojima (SKE48), Yuka Asai (SKE48), Ayuka Kamimura (SKE48), Sana Takatera (SKE48), Mizuki Tsuchiyasu (AKB48), Momoka Onishi (AKB48), Nao Ota (AKB48), Yuri Ito (KOBerrieS♪), Shiori Inaoka (KOBerrieS♪), Hamburgirl Z…” He had paused for a second, possibly for some last minute restructuring, but I stopped him from continuing because I was lost after the first few names.

How Otaben Became a Japanese Idol Otaku

Japanese idol otaku collection of morning musume cds

Photo by Dennis Amith

After receiving our cups of coffee, I took off the pink Panama hat I was wearing that day and set it on the side of the square table. With a regrettably lame attempt at a segue, “At the drop of a hat, the tough questions begin,” I said with a jeering smirk. We shared an understanding grin before I continued, “What’s your story? Could you tell us how you became an idol otaku?” Almost apologetically he asked, “Okay, but it’s kind of a long story because the very first idol group that I cheered for was “モーニング娘。(Morning Musume)” back in junior high. Is that okay with you?” I assured him that a story like that was precisely the reason why I was there that day. I offered him a friendly smile and a nod to urge him to continue.

With a reminiscent upward glance and a deep, relaxing breath, he focused briefly on some unimportant point on the ceiling, presumably navigating his way through his past to the best starting point to his story. And once his eyes had slowly fallen back to meet mine, he began.

“Back then, Morning Musume had become really popular and all my classmates had developed crushes on them. So, I was basically just jumping on the idol-bandwagon. My first ever CD wasn’t even an idol’s. Yet, I had a fun time cheering for them with my friends. We were junior high students and didn’t have much money, so we could really only see them on TV, listen to their CDs, and talk about them at school. We would gab back and forth with the typical chat, ‘Who’s your favorite?,’ ‘Well, I really like this girl,’ you know, stuff like that.”

“We also exchanged video tapes of TV shows that ‘Morning Musume’ appeared on. We only went to a couple of their concerts together. For some reason, we had an unspoken agreement that each classmate should choose a different member to cheer for, and I chose Ai Kago. A quick side note, my current idol otaku friends don’t do such things. Instead of deciding individuals to cheer for, we unite our efforts and cheer for one member together. I am digressing a little, so let’s talk about that later.”

“Anyways, I already liked idol groups in junior high, but things changed when I entered high school. None of my friends liked idol groups anymore, so I had to cheer for the girls by myself. I tried, but I was alone in this devotion and admiration. Eventually, my passion for idols disappeared.”

Hearing that last part confirmed one of my own memories from that time. “Ahh! That’s why I didn’t know that you liked idols back then. When did your enthusiasm for idols come back?” I asked.

“Umm…” he thought for a moment. “It remained that way until I graduated from university and became a law school student. Law school lasts for three years and I got so busy in the second semester of the second year. Before that time, I was going to school but living with my parents. Just getting to school was a two hour commute. I had become so busy that I needed to find a place near the university. That change granted me more free time – my me-time.”

I interjected and asked, “And with that free time you decided to cheer for idols?”

His head rocked side to side as he said, “Well, yes and no. I didn’t decide to cheer for them right away. It was a natural progression that slowly developed, or redeveloped, over that period of time when I first started looking for a way to fill my newly acquired free time. I didn’t want to waste it aimlessly surfing the internet or watching Youtube videos. AKB became popular around that time, so I started watching their shows on Youtube, to see what all the hype was about. They don’t just dance and sing, they also go on talk shows and comedy shows. It was all enjoyable. I was also incredibly stressed out and nervous as a result of the mounting pressure of the upcoming National Bar Examination, and their smiles went a long way to relax me. Thus, the more I watched AKB48’s shows on Youtube and listened to their songs, the happier I felt. ”


Photo by Karl Baron

He continued, “After that realization, I got into them in a serious way. However, for the first 6 months, I was only an at-home-fan, like I used to be back in junior high. I would watch TV and find my favorite members or listen to their CDs. I was satisfied with this practice of quiet admiration because I thought that it was normal not to meet idols.”

“So then what made you change?” I asked.

He took a moment to find his thoughts before he answered and he did so by taking the first sip of the coffee in front of him. “Well,” he said before taking a second needed gulp, “I read somewhere, or heard from someone, that it was possible to meet them at events. So naturally the prospect of meeting them piqued my interest decisively. In the summer before my third year of law school, I had the chance to see an idol up close for the first time. The girl I was cheering for at that time, Amina Sato, was chosen to be an actress in a play. The day following my first big examination of the year was the final showing of that play.”

“My seat was far from the stage, but after the play, there was a meet-and-greet with the actors and actresses. I was only able to see her for one moment, but I was amazed at how close I was to her and it was so exciting for me.”

Even then I could see the excitement of that day leap from his eyes. It was obvious then that the moment he had described made him very genuinely happy. Why wouldn’t a person pursue such a source of happiness? I thought.

I was subtly petitioning him to tell me more when I asked, “So you gave yourself up to it entirely, didn’t you?”

In a manner marked with seasoned assuredness he responded, “Yes. That experience was enough to make me want more. I wanted to go to another performance and I decided on a theatre concert. AKB48 and its local groups have their own theaters (unlike other artists today, aside from the odd headliner in Vegas) and perform a daily 2-hour live show. Also, you have to enter your name in a draw to buy a ticket. And newcomers have a better chance of winning that drawing. I lucked out and was able to buy a ticket the very first time I entered my name. It was at the SKE theatre in Nagoya. Since the theatre is not that big (maximum admission is about 300 people), even the farthest place from the stage is very close to the idols. At the end of the show, there was a meet-and-greet with the members, and I could tell them, ‘This was my first time. Thank you!’ I was surprised at how much fun it was to go see idols in person. After that, I started going to the SKE theatre once a month and sometimes to big concerts. At that time, I still hadn’t gone to a handshaking event.”

SKE48 Theater

“Okay, so you are saying that you weren’t a huge otaku, yet. So when did you finally become the committed idol otaku that you are now?” I inquired.

When he returned the coffee mug he was holding back to the table, I quickly glanced at my own mug to realize that I had nearly finished my coffee while his had hardly been touched. I was so enjoying the detail he kindly offered up in his stories that I didn’t realize I had barely allowed him the chance to sip his coffee. While raising my mug to the barista, an action which received a understanding nod in return, he began again:

“It was over a year later. In May of 2012, I wrote and passed the National Bar Examination. My legal apprenticeship started in November of the same year. Even then, I just kept going to the mini theater concerts and their large concerts. In February of 2013, I went to the SKE theater, but this time I was lucky enough to get a first row seat. I made friends with the person next to me and he asked me if I wanted to go to the handshaking event after the concert. He was very kind and shared his ticket with me, so I decided to go with him.”

“With one ticket (for national handshakes), you can only hold their hand and talk to them for three seconds, but it was more than I expected. After that, I began buying a lot of their CDs in order to get tickets for the handshaking events. I would typically buy 50 single CDs (1000 yen each). Now I’ve branched out and go see a variety of idol groups, but I still buy 30 of their CDs each time one is released. There are many sister groups of AKB48 and at least one of those groups releases a new CD every month, so it’s very common for me to spend around 50,000 yen (500 USD) on CDs each month. And that is how I became the idol otaku that I am now.”

Well, I thought, Rome wasn’t built in a day, either.

What Does a Committed Idol Otaku Do?


Photo by Dngnta

After listening to the long history of Otaben, I realized that I had basically only asked him one question. And I had a long list of questions to ask. But I didn’t fret as I was interested in his stories. So I asked, “Generally, what do you usually do as an idol otaku?”

He brought the palm of his hand to his chest with a confident thump, “My priority is making it to as many theatre performances, concerts and handshaking events as I can,” he beamed. “On weekdays, I go to work and I work either Saturday or Sunday, as well. Yet, my remaining time is spent going to events. Recently, I’ve been cheering for multiple idols, so I often visit more than one idol a day.”

After hearing that all his free time was zealously reserved for following idols, a curiosity escaped my lips, “How far (distance) will you go to get something or see someone?” I suppose I was eager to hear an incredible story full of absurd and miraculous things he’d done in order to obtain something that I might never glance twice at.

So I was slightly disappointed when he announced, “I don’t go too far, but I do make a tight schedule. For example, one three day weekend, I first went to an NMB48 meet and greet in Nagoya, then I went to a KOBerrieS♪ event in the evening. The next day, I went to Tokyo for an AKB concert in Akihabara, and then went back to Nagoya for another KOBerrieS♪ event. After that, I hopped on a Shinkansen and went to Tokyo to drink with my friends. I don’t get to see them very often, so I didn’t want to miss that chance to drink with them. The next day, I went to an AKB event in Akihabara, then hopped onto another Shinkansen to go back to Nagoya. After enjoying one final KOBerrieS♪ event, I came back to Nara on the Kintetsu special express.”

I briefly wondered when he found time to sleep during all that, but then I quickly remembered all the trains he mentioned taking. “Wow! And I thought I did a good job at filling my weekends,” I joked.

Otaben continued with a cheerful fervor, “I had a really tight schedule that Golden Week holiday (from April 29 through May 5, both of which are Japanese public holidays), as well. At 8pm on May 1st, there was a Miraiskirt event in front of Osaka station. The next day, I went to an idol event called “idol Koshien” in Osaka. That afternoon, I went back to work. The next day, I went to a photo event for the whole day from 10:30am to 8pm. The following morning, I had a ticket for an AKB event in the Kanto area, so I took a really early train to get there. After the AKB event, I went to a KOBerrieS♪ event in Yokohama and then came back to Nara. On May 5, there was a KOBerrieS♪ event in Kobe, so I worked in the morning and went to the show afterward. On the last day of Golden Week, I went to another Miraiskirt event in Kyoto. After all this, I totally lost my voice because I had attended events every day over the Golden week.”

My head shook mildly in disbelief. “That sounds so busy,” I scoffed.

“Yeah,” he agreed sharing a like-minded grin. “It was really busy, but it was also a lot of fun.”

I was quickly learning that I almost didn’t even need to ask questions for this interview to progress. He was content to talk at length without any breaks. “I also check out social media sites, such as Twitter or Google + to find out idol information and share it with other fans, especially during my commute. On Google +, each AKB member has an account and they give updates with pictures from time to time, so most fans check there. There is also a new app called 755 (Nana-Go-Go), which lets you peek into the live threads of big-name celebrities and make comments. While idols do reply on 755 from time to time, they typically don’t do that on Twitter or Google +. They certainly read posts or tweets that we write, though. In fact, when I go to their meet and greets, they sometimes ask me about posts that certain fans had written. There are also otaku communities on Google +, so it’s convenient to share our information there.”

“Most of the people in the community are those I’ve met before at some other event, so it’s fun to chat with them. I’m busy during the day because of work, so I check those sites during my commute. There is also a service called mobile mail through which an AKB48 group member can send a message to your mobile phone (though all the messages and photos are the same for all otaku), and you can register for this service for 300 yen per member. They don’t send messages every day, but I read them when I get them,” he concluded.

He leaned back in his chair and reached for the cup of coffee in front of him. Before he picked it up I noticed the black coffee still cuddled the walls of the mug just below its brim. I speculated that his coffee had surely gone cold by this point. “Wow,” I chuckled. “This seems like so much time and effort. I don’t think I could be a serious idol otaku.”

Japanese idol otaku buying shoes

In a swift, unbalanced motion, he flung chest back towards the table. While gently rocking side to side, petitioning the chair to grant him a little more comfort. “Additionally…” he paused.

“Additionally?!” I teased.

Smiling and nodding, he moved on, “If one of my favorite members was on a magazine, or if they are utilized for a sales promotion, I go get the product because it could help raise her reputation in the idol industry. For example, my favorite idol Kaori Matsumura is working with a shoe shop called ASBee, and if I buy a pair of their shoes, I get a clear file folder with her picture on the front. Honestly, many fans probably don’t need the gift, but a lot of them purchase one or more pairs of shoes hoping that higher sales in connection with her advertisement will result in her acquiring even more jobs in the future.”

Hearing this was rather surprising for me and I believed I had finally heard something that qualified as ‘going to a great length’ in pursuit of this hobby. “Now that is true support, if I ever did hear it,” I conceded.

Otaben’s Parents’ and Friends’ Reactions to His Idol Otaku Lifestyle

Japanese idol otaku at performance

“You really are a committed idol otaku. I’m impressed,” I told him. He chuckled and thanked me for the compliment. I smiled back and tossed him another question, “What did your parents said when you became an idol otaku? I can’t really see them being amazed with it.”

His head tilted in a playful fashion and he shot me a friendly wink, “You are probably expecting me to say that my parents were shocked, right?” he coaxed. “How could they not be?” I amiably snickered. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint…” he grumbled with a comical pause.

Spritely, he transitioned from a lamented tone to a positive one while rolling on with his explanation. “But things were the complete opposite in my case. My family was very accepting and welcoming of the fact that I became an idol otaku. As I mentioned earlier, I started cheering for them before the National Bar Examination. I’m not good at handling pressure and I get very nervous. I’ve experienced nausea before exams since I was in junior high. I believe that it was one of the reasons why I failed my first attempt at the university entrance exam. However, I was super healthy and calm before the National Bar Examination because of the idols. Cheering for them was a great stress reliever for me. My mom was really curious and asked me why I had been so genki (meaning healthy and energetic), and I confessed that I was cheering for idols and going to their live events and concerts.”

“Her response was, ‘Good for you! You look really healthy. If it was the ordinary you, you would be like a zombie around this time. This is really great!’ The day before the National Bar Examination, I felt mentally unburdened and decided to go buy their new CD that had just been released. I enjoyed listening to the music the next day while on my way to the exam. The day following the exam I went to the theatrical performance, as well. As a result, I passed the National Bar Examination and for the very first time I took control of the pressure instead of the pressure taking control of me.”

Admittedly, I was touched by his mother’s reaction. “Aww! That’s a really nice story.” Otaben looked pleased.

But certainly not every reaction he received could have been as positive, I thought, so I decided to dig bit deeper. “But, you told me after passing the bar exam, you got even more involved and started going to a lot of meet and greets, right?”

He nodded, “That’s right.”

I pressed further, “So what do your parents say now that you had become a devout idol otaku?”

A flushed, but cheerful, smile stretched across his cheeks before he started, “Well, I lived with them after becoming a lawyer, so they often commented in ways like, ‘Again? Who are you off to see today?’ Or, because I order CDs online, ‘More CDs? How many boxes did you order? Gimme a break!’ You know, stuff like that.”

“Although they razz me, they aren’t opposed to what I am doing. I have a younger brother, but he has lived by himself for the past 5 or 6 years. When he visits us, he calls me “sick” or “gross” for being an idol otaku. But one day I said, ‘Hey bro, you can take this CD, if you want.’ His excitement was genuine. ‘Really? This is the newly released one! Thanks!’ And there it was, I thought. I had him.”

“It’s funny because who would have recognized it as being the newest CD, if they didn’t follow it, you know? I suspect he is an idol otaku, as well, but just doesn’t want to admit it,” he finished with a hearty laugh. I chuckled with him and told Otaben that it’s very possible he and his brother might have much more to talk about than they think.

I continued on with the same topic, “So, your family all seems pretty accepting. What about your friends?”

He gave a gentle shrug before answering, “Basically, my friends, who I met recently, knew that I was an idol otaku from the beginning, so they never had the chance to be surprised. My friends from junior high weren’t surprised either because they knew I liked Morning Musume back then. People are fine with it. They may have been surprised, but I have never had a negative opinion tossed my way or anything. So I post my otaku activity on Facebook with my real name because I’m totally fine with telling the world that I’m an otaku. I post reports from events to let them know how fun being an idol otaku can be. In fact, many of my friends are rather interested. They often ask me what kind of things I do or what the handshaking events are like, though nobody comes with me. They’ve only seen these events on TV and so they want to know what it’s really like, which is why I post conversations I’ve had with idols.”

Otaben’s Conversations with Idols

Japanese idol otaku at handshaking event

For those of you who aren’t friends with Otaben on Facebook, I wanted to share some of his reports. So I asked, “Do you mind if we share some dialogue you’ve had with an idol at one of the meet and greets with our readers?”

“I’d be happy to,” he approved. “You would be amazed at how well I am able to talk with famous girls. It’s like we are friends, or maybe even like they are my girlfriend. Just kidding. I know it sounds creepy. It wasn’t serious, just to clarify.”

NMB Chiho Matsuoka

Chiho: “I want to take photos with Kao-tan san (Kaori Matsumura), so could you ask her for me?”
Otaben: “Huh? You should ask her yourself.”
Chiho: “I’m a bit scared and I can’t talk to her.”
Otaben: “She’ll be fine! Actually, if I were to tell her, she would find out that I came to you first and that would upset her and she’d ask why I went to see a different girl before her.”
Chiho: “What? Then I’ll say the same thing! You want to see a different girl?”
Otaben: “((((;゜Д゜))) OMG!”

SKE Kaori Matsumura

Otaben: “Hi Kao-tan. Chiho Matsuoka said that she wants to take photos with you.”
Kaori: “The girl from Namba (NMB), right? You’ve been saying ‘Chiho-chan’ a lot recently! (angry tone)”
Otaben: “Kaotan, you are the cutest…(trembling voice)”

With a press from his thumb, the screen on his phone went black as it disappeared below the table top, undoubtedly on its way back to that The KOBerrieS♪ bag by his left foot.

Leaning back up to join me on the useful side of the table, he continued to try to make his case for attending the meet and greets. “So, as you could probably tell from those dialogues, the more you go, the more friendly and familiar you become with the idols. It allows for more free-spirited conversations between the two of you. They know not only my name but also Who I am a fan of and what kind of things we’ve talked about before. This was so much fun for me and I wanted other people to know about it, so I post reports on social media,” he submitted.

Does Otaben Have a Girlfriend?

Japanese idol otaku takes pictures with his favorite idol

And now the question we’ve all been waiting for: “This may be a personal question, but do you have a girlfriend? Or, have you had a girlfriend while you have been an idol otaku? If so, what does/did she say? If not, are you the type of person who can only love idols?”

For the first time since this interview began, his face winced to a somber red, even though a few moments before he was positively merry. “Of course,” he regretfully moaned, “I don’t have a girlfriend. Since becoming an otaku, I haven’t had a girlfriend, either. I’m interested solely in idol girls now.”

I felt immediately responsible for the mood that question had cast over my friend and I sought quickly to dispel it. “But, you are a nice looking guy with a great job. You seriously don’t get approached by any girls?” I appealed.

“Well, I don’t care about ordinary girls, even though I’ve been asked out on dates or goukon” he asserted softly. (By the way, readers, a ‘goukon’ (合コン) is a group date.)

“Several girls have sent me messages on occasion, but I was not interested in them at all and bluntly told them, ‘Sorry, but I’m busy.’ I mean, to be fair, I really am busy. I spend so much time working and doing idol otaku activities. Now it feels like a waste of time and money even going to a goukon. I don’t enjoy them or hanging out with girls nearly as much as I enjoy idol events. I prefer to go to idol events and use my money for their stuff. After going on a goukon group date, I think, ‘Darn, I could have gotten 4 more CDs or tickets to a photoshoot with that money.'”

“Of course, I don’t mentally convert all the money I spend into how many idol CDs I could have had. Only when I spend money for goukon or dates. But if I go drinking with my guy friends, I don’t think that way. I only think this way when money is spent on a woman. It’s fun to talk with people, but not as fun as the idol stuff. There are also female otaku and I am sometimes told that we could enjoy the same things together. But they are just female otaku and not idols, so I am not interested in them either. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m the type of person who can only love idols.”

I wondered if he truly loved idol girls, or whether it was just an excuse to avoid dating, so I asked, “So, what if an idol girl quit her group and became an ordinary girl? Would you want to date her?”

The question forced him to pause for some time. “That’s a tough question,” he groaned. “Umm…” he thought on his answer for a while longer and I could hear his foot begin to tap. His head swayed from side to side as though toying with the prospect, or perhaps the impossibility of it, until finally, with an unaffected assuredness, his eyes met mine once again.

“Well, this is my personal opinion, so other otaku may be different, but I cheer for them as an idol – the figure on the stage. I know that they are human and they live their private lives normally, like we all do. But I’m not interested in their private lives. It’s said that real people are 3D, anime characters are 2D, and idols are 2.5D. That is to say, we cheer for idols not as real people, but for the image that they project themselves as. We like them as idols. So, if one became an ordinary girl, I don’t think that it would be the same. Since I’ve never had such an experience, I cannot say anything with confidence, but that’s what I think for now. Although I might get excited to see them, I only cheer for them as idols,” he concluded.

From that answer I could see that his was a level of otaku far greater than ever I had come across in all my wide travels. I marvel at the commitment. While the words in my mouth had temporarily left me, my brain was racing with all manners of hypotheticals. Alas, I couldn’t prevent my curiosity from bursting onward. “So,” I warily inched, “you said that it may be not an exaggeration to say that you’re the type of person who can only love idols. I’m compelled to ask, but I’m hesitant to word my question improperly and so I apologize beforehand, but do you see idols as being sexual?”

In a manner leagues more relaxed than I was, he calmly shrugged and said, “Well, I never thought of them in that way. I’m not sure about other people, though. It’s too scary to ask them. This topic is a taboo in the idol otaku world. In my case, however, it’s a 100% no! In fact, an ex-member of SKE48 (Momona Kitou) became a porn star (Yua Mikami). Anyways, Kaori Matsumura, whom I cheer for, recommended fans to buy the video on a radio program, so I bought it. However, she looked exactly like she did in the idol group and I could only see her as an idol, so I didn’t even watch it. It was really disturbing and I felt weird about it all. I would have never thought that such a pure idol would have become so dirty. It was too uncomfortable for me. What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that idols don’t create that link to such things in my mind.”

“What about their scandals?” I asked. “What do you feel when one arises?”

“Actually, Kaori Matsumura had a scandalous past. It was revealed in a magazine that she was employed as a hostess in a bar. But she was not like other idols when she got famous, so fans weren’t shocked at all. Some fans get really upset with their favorite idol when they are involved in scandals.” I was so impressed by his demeanor and by his completely rational answers. I was developing a fond respect for his candidness.

Japanese Idol Otaku with Wives and Families


Photo by Andy Lapham

Soon things took a natural turn towards discussing the romantic lives of other otaku and how idol activities affect them. At this point I wasn’t surprised that Otaben had knowledge about this area of the idol otaku life, as well.

“Realistically,” he began, “single men make up the majority of the male fans, but there are those who have girlfriends or wives, too. Those people aren’t usually the type of otaku that show up to every event like us, though. Of course, they would have limited time and resources to devote to idols, especially if they have a family, right? People usually work on weekdays, so main idol events are on weekends. But if they have a girlfriend, a wife, or a family, it makes it much more difficult to attend. It’s impossible for them to adjust their schedule. Among married people, some have permission from their wives, but I happen to know that some of them are sneaking out. I heard that the sneaky husbands receive CDs at the post office and hide them in their cars and stuff like that. They have to scrape their money together from what remains after paying for family necessities, so they can get away and do what they like doing.”

What? Some men sneak away from their wives so they can go watch, shake hands and chat with idols? I suppose I wasn’t surprised that it happens, but I told Otaben I couldn’t believe that some people could secretly cheer for idols without being found out by their spouses. “From a lawyer’s perspective,” I asked “do you think it could be the reason for a divorce?”

Otaben’s brow furled in thought. “Well,” he mused, “I’ve never thought about that either. I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think it would be the only reason for a divorce, even if it was found out. Going after idols is not cheating. It’s just a hobby. It’s the same as spending their money on a motorbike. I mean, they couldn’t ask for consolation money for that reason alone. It could count as one of the reasons, though. Perhaps you could link it to incompatibility. However, I haven’t heard of any such troubles, so I believe that most of those men strike a healthy balance between their loved ones and their hobby.”

I pouted with a sigh of mild dissatisfaction and said, “All right.”

The Best and Toughest Part About Being an Idol Otaku


“Okay, let’s get back on track. What is the best part and the toughest part about being an idol otaku?” I asked.

He leapt right into his answer. “The best part is definitely that I can meet a wide variety of people. Their occupations and ages are all so varied. Each otaku has a different personality too. We all have the same hobby, so talking with them is really fun. If we get closer, we sometimes talk about our private lives. It’s definitely the best part about being an idol otaku – Getting to know many kinds of people and having a fun time together.”

“The toughest part about it is the money and time you need to invest. Scheduling events to go to and how much money it all costs is definitely the toughest.”

Yep, I thought, spending around $500 a month on CDs sounds difficult. “Yeah, I bet it can be,” I said as I imagine how this hobby might set him back over time. “Well, I hope I’m not being to brazen to ask, but how much money do you spend in one year?”

Surprisingly, he didn’t hesitate answering for a second. In fact, he looked proud. “Last year I spent about 1,000,000 yen (approximately $10,000 USD). This year, I think it will be more than that. I can openly declare that it will increase proportionately with my income. Now, my maximum limit is 1,000,000 yen. I also have savings and I always try to make sure I have money for other stuff. I don’t spend all of it. Maybe 20 to 30 %.”

“Here is a rough breakdown of that 1,000,000 yen: 400,000 yen for CDs (handshaking event tickets/votes for election), 400,000 yen for transportation and accommodation for events, the rest is spent on goods and other things.”

What Makes an Idol Otaku Fall in Love (and Spend Money)?

Now we all know that he spends a good amount of money on idols. Let’s ask how he chooses who to spend his money on. “Can you list the names of the idols that you were and are a fan of? Could you explain how your favorites have shifted over time and also why they became your favorite in the first place?”, I asked.

“As for AKB48, I started with Amina Sato, then Sawako Hata, then Kaori Matsumura and now Chiho Matsuoka is placed right alongside Kaori Matsumura. The reason I cheer for them is that they are different from other idols. They are really unique,” he answered.

Once again I saw a look of sheer delight fall over his face when he began talking about his favorites. He continued, “For example, Kaori Matsumura often gets involved in arguments with people in management. It’s something that idols don’t usually do. She also says things that an idol shouldn’t say. I can’t come up with any good examples because there are so many. But, yeah, she is not afraid to speak her mind and if she thinks something isn’t right, she will tell you. She is a really outspoken person. It’s very different from the stereotypical idol, right? I like it!”

He moved right along to a more detailed story about his favorite girl, Kaori Matsumura. “Speaking of Kaori, she was not popular at first. But when the Google+ service started, she posted updates more than anybody else. She also taped and posted videos everyday, even without any make-up on her face. Sometimes she would talk about whatever, other times she would cook. She’d show us behind the scenes footage of concerts and she’d even show us quarrels with other members. Because of her, we finally knew about what idols were doing off stage. Throughout this videotaping period, she also took on the role of an adviser for the younger or newer members of the group, as though she was their mother. She was liked by all other higher positioned members, as well. It was really fun to watch, and it quickly made her a lot of fans. Before that, she was not involved in the annual AKB48 member election, but her videos catapulted her to 34th place in the ‘Future Girls’ category. The following year, she moved up to the 24th place (Undergirls), then to 17th place (Undergirls), and finally 13th place (Senbatsu) this year. I literally cried when this happened,” he confided.

I admit I felt my eye brows raise when he uttered that last part. I then briefly pondered whether he uses the word literally… ummm… literally.

“As I was saying,” he continued, “she was not popular at all in the beginning. Although she speaks well, she is not the cutest, nor is her dancing or singing all that great either. So she wasn’t garnering much praise. She has been a trainee idol so long that she was even granted the title of ‘honorary lifetime trainee.’ But she was promoted to a member of team KII of SKE by exception due to her success on Google+. I’ve seen her put forth effort and achieve such growth over the years. I’ve witnessed her struggles and her triumphs, and I’ve watched her make her way out of the swamp. How could I not become her fan? Well, I might have gotten a bit excited talking about her just now, but my point is that I like unique girls more than ordinary girls.”

I understood completely. Why have tofu when you can have a dill-pickle-pizza-ice-cream-sundae?

Japanese idol otaku with Kaori Matsumura

“So all the other girls you listed up are also unique like Kaori Matsumura?” I asked.

“Actually no. The local idol group that I cheer for isn’t that unique. They are just like traditional idol groups, but the distance between them and the fans is much smaller. For instance, they check my twitter page often. When I visit them, they ask me about my twitter page. When I changed my photo on twitter to a picture with them, the very next day one of them said, ‘Thank you for changing the pic.’ When I tweeted that I can’t go to their event but ended up making it there anyway, while I was there one told me, ‘You said on Twitter you couldn’t make it, but you did!’ It feels like they care about me, you know? There are a lot of fans and they certainly can’t check all of the tweets, but they do check mine. That makes me feel great.”

“It’s not just the local groups that make me feel that way,” he continued. “For example, Chiho Matsuoka (NMB in AKB48 group) makes me feel welcome at the handshaking events. For example, I said to her, ‘You looked sick at the last live show. Were you okay?’, then she told me, ‘What? How did you know? You know me really well. You are the only one who noticed that. Thank you.'”

“Another time, she told me, ‘I want to talk to you a little longer. It’s really fun to chat with you. I can relax when talking with you.’ I know she might say things like that to other people too, but among all the other fans, I felt as though I was special. I think that the girls who can make fans feel that way are the best idols. It definitely makes me want to go to another one of their events.”

“They also show me their weaknesses sometimes. Chiho was recently promoted to sub-leader, requiring her to take on the role of MC, but she told me that she didn’t think she was any good at it. I encouraged her to work on it and reassured her that she would soon get used to it. She responded with, ‘Please support me until then.’ I immediately answered, ‘I will!'”

Why Japanese Idol Otaku Buy So Many CDs

Japanese idol otaku cd collection

At this point I understood spending money on CDs to shake a girls’ hand. One CD is usually 1,000yen. If I could shake hands with Orlando Bloom and chat with him, even if it was only for a few seconds, I’d buy his CD.

But it seemed to me that having one fan buy a ton of CDs would increase garbage production. “Well, why don’t they simply sell the tickets to the handshaking events rather than making fans buy CDs?”

“I can’t be certain,” Otaben responded. “But I think it’s because it would conflict with the Entertainment and Amusement Trades Control Law. Companies need special permission to sell tickets for handshaking events (literally tickets to touch other people). You can imagine it being a “touchy issue” when the event involves so many minors.”

“However, I imagine most otaku wish they could just buy the tickets. I hold on to almost all my CDs as a way to reflect on my actions. I haven’t counted them, but I believe that there are between 500 to 600.”

Japanese idol otaku buy a lot of cds

“And the CDs are also used for member election, correct?” I asked. “I mean, every CD sold between May and June would count as one vote. I think many fans spend more money on CDs during that period. Most fans understand the system, so they know that they are spending money on something for which they get nothing in return. So why do they still buy so many CDs?”

Japanese idol otaku handshaking event tickets

He gave yet another sound answer to explain such, I believed, odd behavior. “I think that there are two reasons,” he posited. “First, we can show our appreciation to the idol we really like with a visual result. We enjoy their performance and they make us happy. We cheer for them, but their performance cheers us on, as well. We want to thank them and we show gratitude with our votes at the election. An ex-AKB48 member, Yuko Oshima, said in the election speech that the votes are like love from all the fans. Oh, and it’s not as though we get nothing in return. Each CD comes with a ticket to a handshaking event. Although, I think we might still buy the CDs to amass votes even if they didn’t contain tickets.”

“Secondly, we can give our favorite idol a chance to take an active part in the group. There are so many members in the AKB group, but when they release a new CD, only ‘senbatsu’ members can sing and be on the cover. Only ‘senbatsu’ members can be in the spotlight. Typically, management chooses the ‘senbatsu’ girls, but the election grants us the opportunity to choose. We figure they choose girls who are already popular, girls who they want to be more popular and those that are good at dancing. But there is no clear criteria. It’s up to the discretion of management.”

“But at the annual AKB48 members election, those ‘senbatsu’ members are decided by fan votes (1st to 16th places become senbatsu members). That’s why we vote for our favorite girl. It gives them the chance.” With that delightful conclusion, he jumped instantly back to his favorite girl, Kaori Matsumura.

“Kaori Matsumura, whom I cheer for and won 13th place, has been chosen as a senbatsu member for the SKE single only twice. For various reasons, girls who are less popular than her were chosen, and fans were really sad. We really wanted her as a senbatsu member and to see her on nationally broadcast television. The only thing we could do for her was to vote for her. So, this year, we formed a group. There were about 100 members. Our goal was to get her to become a senbatsu member and we pooled our money and raised 14,000,000 yen (roughly $140,000). Not everyone spent the same amount of money. We hired an accountant, so we wouldn’t have any trouble. This is only a guess, but I think that the average amount each member spent was 50,000 to 400,000 yen. I spent somewhere between that, too. The richest of them probably spent at least 3,000,000 yen. Some people also bought CDs on top of what they donated. I heard that one guy sold all his assets to buy votes for her since she told us that this year will be her last. She got 17th last year, which is just one position away from being a senbatsu member. We were all so frustrated and sad about it, so we focused our efforts this year.”

He continued. “Of course, there are a lot of opinions about this annual AKB48 members election and various stances among otaku. Some people don’t care about it at all and only buy a certain number of CDs. However, some people can really get carried away and go as far as maxing out credit cards, selling their assets or even taking out loans from money lenders. It all really depends on how firmly someone desires their girl to succeed. You will never hear of one otaku spending an extraordinary amount of money on votes and then turn around and complain to another otaku for not spending as much. We act as a group, but we respect individual ideas about the election. Everyone understands the system and does what they can do.”

Japanese Idol Merchandise

Japanese idol clear files

“So, now that we know how you think of the CDs, what about special merchandise? Do you collect a lot of things and how important is it for you to have them right away?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t collect merchandise, per se, but I do have a fair number of goods.” He brought a lot of items to the cafe, but it was only a part of what he has collected over the years.

He continued, “They sell randomly packaged pictures at shops and concert venues. I have the complete sets of SKE trainee members when Kaori Matsumura was a trainee. There weren’t trainee pictures at first, but they started selling them, so I bought a lot and completed the collection. I really only buy things that I truly want.”

“One of my rarest items is a KOBerrieS♪ T-shirt with all the member’s signatures on it. Yet, the most rare item of mine is Kaori Matsumura’s solo CD that I waited in the pouring rain for hours to get my hands on. It was a limited edition, for 1000 people only, and I was 1006th. But I didn’t give up and hoped others would leave on account of the rain. When I was told that I could get it, I was so happy. Actually, it was my most memorable moment as an otaku.” Yet another mark of strong determination in this young man.

I asked him afterwards if he could have bought it online if he hadn’t received one. He told me that the only merchandise worth buying are the ones you buy first hand.

How to Become an Idol Otaku

Japanese idol otaku at outdoor concert

With a waning number of questions on my list, I glanced down at Otaben’s remaining coffee. He had done pretty well. Nearly half was gone.

With my readers in mind, I asked, “If somebody wanted to become an idol otaku, what do you think would be the first step?

He answered very politely, “On top of watching TV, videos, and listening to their music, you should go to an actual event. Perhaps concerts or other live performances. It might be a big step for you, but I’d like you to experience that atmosphere. It’s common for other fans to talk to you. If you told them that it was your first time, they would happily teach you as much as they could. If you make friends there, it becomes a lot more fun. Therefore, visiting an actual event is the most important step. You probably won’t know how to enjoy yourself there, at first, so just watch the other otaku. (By the way, the term for ‘to watch’ is “ヲチる”. It changed from “ウォッチ(watch)する” to “ウォッチる” to “ヲチる” )”

“So, do whatever you can to join in on the fun. We have a specific cheer that we shout out during songs, and it’s also coupled with dance moves. But it’s fine to clap your hands and feel the fun of the atmosphere. If you continue to go to concerts, you will eventually know what to do during each song and it will become more fun.”

(Mami’s note: As you can tell, Otaben-san was very forthcoming with information and kindly teaching me as much as he could. I visited a few events with him and, he wasn’t kidding, it really was a lot of fun. I may write about those experiences in the future, if lots of requests come in.)

“What about rules?” I asked, taking another swig of coffee. “Are there any rules all idol otaku agree on?”

“There are a lot of rules, though none are specifically written and enacted in the community,” he said seriously. “It basically falls in to the realm of common sense. Here’s a list:”

  • Do not say bad things to the idol or swear at them during the meet and greet.
  • Do not to touch anything other than their hands.
  • Do not get close to them or talk to them without reason. (Some girls who don’t like to be talked to.)
  • If you have a lot of handshaking tickets, you should stand at the end of the line so that the people who only have a few tickets don’t wait so long.
  • The local idol groups have their show with other groups usually. So we let fans of specific groups ahead. Also if you want to move around (dance) a lot during the live performances, take the back row.
  • Don’t reveal personal information to other fans unless you know them well. Also don’t ask for their information. Don’t poke your noses into other fan’s private affairs.

“There are a lot of other small rules, but those are the major ones,” he concluded with a serious nod.

Otaben’s Parting Words

Japanese idol otaku polaroid

“Lastly,” I said, “is there anything else you want to say about yourself, idol otaku, or idols in general?” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and stared in thought at the floor to his left. Peering back towards the table, he uncrossed his arms, took ahold of his coffee mug and emptied the remaining contents into his mouth with a forceful upturn of the mug. A look of pleasant satisfaction eased its way over to me, where I now sat looking at my own coffee.

“I want everyone to see these events in person. There are a lot of videos and shows on TV, but I want everyone to come on over to the actual events. There is a concert, they sell their goods and CDs, and if you buy a CD, you can shake their hands. If it is the local idols, you may be able to talk to them for one CD, as well. Even though you can’t speak Japanese, they would try talking to you. If you buy a photo ticket, called “チェキ券(ちぇきけん)”, they can do any pose you want (nothing racy, of course). It costs from 500yen to 2000yen.”

“When you come to Japan, it might be a fun thing to try and learn about this part of Japanese culture. There are so many idol events all over Japan, so I’d like tourists to stop by at least one of them and get to know what it’s like. The atmosphere is really different from what you would expect. It’s also fun to do fan performances to the music and to chat with the members. It’ll probably make you feel more genki.”

As you can see in the picture above, I tried it out at the photo shooting event. It was fun and I did feel really genki!

“The term Otaku has a negative image. You might imagine a chubby person with glasses who doesn’t care about their outward appearance, or someone who seems a bit out of place socially. However, there are many kinds of otaku. Of course, the stereotypical otaku does exist, but there are cute girl otaku, kids, fashionable otaku and young otaku – every one of them with something special to offer.”

I learned a great deal talking with Otaben and experienced a big change of perspective. I would love it if more people came to idol events to sweep that bad image of otaku away for good. Thank you, Otaben-san!

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop ・ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile 1 / 2]


Japanese Fluency Is Just a Race to See Who Can Make the Most Mistakes First

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast & Slow,” he talks about how the brain can be divided into two thinking parts: System 1 & System 2.

System 1: Fast, instinctive, emotional.
System 2: Slower, more deliberative, more logical.

I’d recommend reading the book if you want to learn (way) more about these processes, but here’s the gist:

System 1 includes all the thoughts that automatically come to mind. For example, when I say “2+2=?” you automatically think “4” (at least, I hope you do).

Or, take this more complicated question:

“You buy a baseball bat and a ball for $1.10. The baseball bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much did the ball cost?”

Approximately half of you got the answer right. But, almost every single one of you thought the answer “The ball costs $0.10” for at least a moment. This is System 1 at work. It brings out information quickly. There’s no thinking. You have no control over it. Even the half of you that said the correct answer, “$0.05” most likely found the answer $0.10 popping into your brain for just a second. Then, you used System 2 to resist and then check this answer.

System 2 is the rational, thinking part of your brain. Using System 2 is almost always painful. By “painful” I mean it takes effort to use System 2, whereas System 1 takes no effort at all. For an example of System 2 at work, simply try to work through the following multiplication in your head: 343×934. The harder you have to think, the more your pupils will dilate. Your heart rate will also go up. Some of you will reach your cognitive limit and then give up. Others of you will be better at multiplication, which means you have to put in less effort to come up with an answer. But you are all using System 2 (unless you’re some kind of savant).

But what does this have to do with language learning?

System 1 is fluency. In many language learning circles, this is known as acquired knowledge.

System 2 is learned knowledge. This is basically the learning many of you did in school. You have to think deliberatively to recall and use something you learned. It’s not automatic or intuitive. It’s not fluent like system 1.

Increasingly, our goal at Tofugu (and WaniKani, and EtoEto) has been to figure out ways to change your Japanese language to be a System 1 task. Essentially, we want to help you to make your Japanese fluent — Not something you have to think about and deliberate on. Deliberation isn’t something you can necessarily avoid, but there are strategies to get you through it more quickly. The question is: How do we make your Japanese knowledge into System 1 knowledge? And then, with enough System 1 Japanese knowledge, how do we make you fluent in Japanese?

There are a lot of answers to this question. Ask everybody and their grandma and they’ll have an opinion. For now, let’s just start with a single strategy I’ve been thinking about lately:

Make The Most Mistakes to Achieve Japanese Fluency

Here, I even made a video on the subject:

Making mistakes, and making a lot of them is one of the fastest ways to improve your Japanese (or anything, really). Actually, I take that back. The action of making mistakes isn’t going to make you better. But, the mindset of being willing to make a lot of mistakes, then fixing them in realtime as you make them… that’s a recipe for success.

It reminds me of the story in the book Art & Fear, which I wrote about in the article “Quantity, Not Quality, Makes You Fluent In Japanese.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

The quantity group made more mistakes. When they made a mistake, they just made another piece of pottery, this time trying to fix the mistake they made previously. They did this over and over again until they were able to make a high quality pottery thing, quickly. My guess is that on the last day of the class they could make a piece of pottery using less brain power (less System 2) compared to the quality group… but that’s a whole other topic that we may get into in a later post. In a sense, making a high quality piece of pottery had become “fluent” to the quantity group. It had become a System 1 task. Not a deliberate, logical, System 2 one.

rows of pottery that achieve japanese fluency

It’s also a lot like a story I was told when I was a kid (sorry, I don’t know where this was from so I don’t have a source!).

A man wanted a drawing of a cat. So, he went to an artist.

“Can you draw a painting of my cat?” he said as he showed the artist a photograph.

The artist said “Sure, no problem, I can get this done in two weeks.”

The client came back two weeks later and asked if the painting was done.

“Not yet,” said the artist. “Give me a minute.”  He then grabbed a canvas and painted the most beautiful cat painting the client had ever seen. It was perfect! But, the man was not pleased.

“If you were able to do that so quickly, why didn’t you just draw that for me when I came in? Why did I have to wait two weeks for this?” he asked angrily.

The artist then took the client to a closet. He opened it, and hundreds of cat paintings fell out.

“I had to practice,” he replied.

Through practice, and through many mistakes, the artist made the action of “drawing a cat” into a System 1 process. You can do the same thing with your Japanese language learning process as well. It’s all a matter of making lots and lots of mistakes, smartly.

How To Make Mistakes

honda crashed on its side

Photo by Aaron Parecki

I find that a lot of people are afraid to make mistakes. This is a problem, because making mistakes is very important if you want to improve at a skill. In fact, I’d bet that every person who is fluent in Japanese (as a second language) made a similar total number of mistakes to get there. If only they kept count, then I could average them out and give you a number to work towards. My point is, everyone has to make a similar number of mistakes if they want to become fluent in a second language. It’s not something you can skip, so you might as well get through them as fast as possible.

But making mistakes isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a couple of problems:

  1. Many people don’t have access to the right resources. Or, they just don’t know what the right resources are.
  2. Many people are too embarrassed about making mistakes.

If we can solve these two problems, making mistakes will become not only possible, but easy too!

The Right Resources

The easiest way to make mistakes is through conversation practice. You say something, someone tells you what you said wrong, and then you fix the mistake. Maybe the grammar/word you fixed comes up several times in the conversation. You learn from that mistake and eventually the correct process becomes natural to you. Eventually it is fluent.

But, not everyone has access to someone like this. If you want to become fluent in Japanese very quickly, you’re going to have to have these conversations on a daily basis. This is out of most people’s price ranges.

Luckily, the internet exists. Websites like italki have tutors you can hire. If you’re just looking for casual practice (that’s probably best for this exercise) and not “tutoring” you can find native Japanese speakers for ~$5/hour. Five hours a week would cost your $25. Just don’t go out to eat dinner once a week and it’s paid for.

Alternatively, you could try to find a language exchange partner. But, there are problems that will (probably) arise. First, you have to be a good partner too. That means you need to help them with their English (or whatever your native language is) as well. That makes your study half as efficient. If you have a lot of time, this is possible, but I’m selfish and don’t want to give up time that I could be using to get better at my own thing. The second problem is that they’re less reliable. You get what you pay for, I guess. You’ll have way more cancelations and no-shows. You’ll also find that they won’t be as forward about fixing your mistakes, and that’s the whole point. If you’re lucky and you can find someone good, that’s great. But, for the most part a tutor that you pay for is going to move you along faster.

If you can’t find someone to talk to live, try Lang-8, HelloTalk, or even language shadowing.

Overcoming Embarrassment

Maybe you want everything perfect. Maybe you just don’t like messing up in front of people. Whatever your issue is, I get it. It’s hard. But, try to think about it from the other side of the fence. If someone was practicing English (or your native language) with you, would you judge them harshly? Would you make fun of them or think they’re stupid for making mistakes? I sure hope not. Most likely, you’d just want to help them to get better. And they would, too, because they’re willing to make all those mistakes in front of you. Then you fix them. Then they improve.

If that shift in perspective doesn’t do anything for you, just remember: 1.5 drinks is the perfect sweet spot between reduced inhibitions and still being able to learn things.

Making Mistakes Into A Game

Sorry board game slightly askew

Photo by John Liu

Whether you’re having trouble finding a place to make mistakes, or just embarrassed to make mistakes, one thing that I’ve found to help is to keep track of your mistakes. That way, you can put a number next to them. “I made 30 mistakes today! Uh oh, that’s 50 less than yesterday. What did I do differently?”

Turn your mistakes into a good thing. Something that you strive for instead of enjoy. If you give yourself a big goal (let’s say… 100?) you will have to come up with creative ways to mess up. As you get better at Japanese, it will become harder to make mistakes, too. You’ll have to push yourself with more difficult Japanese in order to reach your goal. If you make 100 mistakes per day and keep it up for a year, that’s 36,500 improvements and fixes you’ve made! You’re going to make some great progress. I’m not sure if there is any other study method that can match this.

As for the “magic number” of mistakes one needs to make before they become fluent in Japanese? Let’s just make a guess. I’m going to say 50,000 different mistakes. Why don’t you start keeping track and then let me know when you get there?

What mistakes did you make today? How did you fix them? Let me know in the comments.


Japanese Homophones and How To Use Them

Throughout the course of your Japanese studies, have you ever come across an unfamiliar kanji, only to look it up and realize it was a word you thought you already knew? “But I thought ‘はやい’ was written ‘早い’!” you might have said. “What’s this ‘速い’ business?”

Well, as it turns out, there are quite a few Japanese homophones—words that sound the same—that have very similar meanings, with 早い and 速い being examples. These types of homophones exist in English, too, like “insure” and “ensure” or “affect” and “effect,” but they probably don’t cause you much confusion in your day-to-day life. When learning Japanese from scratch, however, each new homophone you encounter creates a little linguistic speed bump on the road toward fluency and comprehension.

If you’ve struggled with this in the past, I can’t blame you. I bet that even some Japanese people wouldn’t be able to come up with the exact differences between all of the examples we’ll cover today. Instead of letting that discourage you, though, think of it as a fun challenge!

In this guide, we’ll cover a large selection of Japanese homophones, explain the differences between them, and give you examples of how each are used. Are you ready, Tofugu students? Why do Tofugu teachers wear sunglasses? It’s because Tofugu students are so bright!

あう (会う VS 合う VS 遭う)

“あう” can be written as 会う, 合う, or 遭う.

会う means “to meet someone in person or to be be present at an event.”

I bumped into my friend in Shibuya.

Where did you two meet?

合う means “to match or suit,” “to do together,” or “to encounter or come across something” when used in the phrase 巡り合う(めぐりあう).

I wonder if this couch matches our living room.

I’ve known her for a while, but we’ve never really clicked.

We came across a once in a life-time opportunity.

遭うmeans “to meet with misfortune.”

I got caught in a sudden downpour on the way back.

An unexpected calamity has befallen us.

あか (赤 VS 紅 VS 朱 VS 緋)

Japanese Homophones Aka

Photo by Dizzy Sheep

“あか” can be written as 赤, 紅, 朱, or 緋.

赤 is used generically to refer to every variation of the color red, while the three other kanji are meant for specific variations of the color red.

紅 is used for deep reds, like crimson and garnet.

朱 is reserved for orange-ish reds, like vermillion.

緋 is used for vivid reds, like scarlet, cardinal, or the reds seen in fire.

あからむ (明らむ VS 赤らむ)

“あからむ” can be written as 明らむ or 赤らむ.

The “あか” part of あからむ was originally used to describe light. Eventually the meaning shifted to include the concept of the color red, and you’ll see examples of both usages below.

明らむ means “to brighten.”

The sky was slowly getting brighter.

The room brightened as the sun shined in.

赤らむ means “to turn pink or red.”

Shame flushed her face.

The sunset turned the western sky red.

あし (足 VS 脚)

“あし” can be written as 足 or 脚.

足 refers to “a foot or feet from the ankle outwards.”

These shoes don’t fit my feet.

I got a mosquito bite on my right foot.

脚 means “legs from the waist down” or something that serves a similar purpose, such as the legs of chair in the case of 椅子の足 (いすのあし).

That model has such long legs.

One leg of the desk is broken.

Many beginner students of Japanese don’t realize that this distinction exists. This may be because, despite there being an official difference between the two, there are still many cases where 足 is used instead of 脚 to represent the entire leg. Why? Because the kanji is simply easier to write!

あたい (値 VS 価)

“あたい” can be written as 値 or 価.

値 means “worth” or “mathematical value.”

That is worthy of praise.

Solve for X in the equation.

価 means “price” or “cost.”

You should assign a price equal to the labor involved.

あたたかい (温かい VS 暖かい)

Japanese Homophones Atatakai

Photos by jyakou and torange

“あたたかい” can be written as 温かい or 暖かい.

温かい means “warm to the touch” or “having emotion and empathy.”

I want my child eat a hot meal every day.

It was such a heart-warming story.

暖かい means “warm weather or ambient temperature.”

Today is warm, isn’t it.

It’s getting warmer day by day.

I wish I had a warm* blanket.
* In this example “warm” refers to the warmth inside the blanket—the blanket itself isn’t warm

あつい (暑い VS 熱い)

“あつい” can be written as  熱い or暑い.

熱い means “hot to the touch” or “full of passion or enthusiasm.”

This coffee is too hot to drink.

Koichi was moved by Kristen’s enthusiasm towards Sailor Moon.

暑い means “hot weather or ambient temperature” and is used when surroundings are uncomfortably hot.

This summer is insanely hot.

It’s so hot in the car, isn’t it?

あと (跡 VS 痕)

Japanese Homophones Ato

“あと” can be written as 跡 or 痕.

跡 means “remnant of another’s travels,” “sign that something happened or existed,” or “inheritance.”

There are footprints here.

Do you want to go see remnants of inhabitants from the Jomon era?

I’m thinking of succeeding my father in our company.

痕 means “scar” or “sign of damage.”

Is that a bullet hole on the wall?

I have a scar from the operation on my stomach.

あぶら (油 VS 脂)

“あぶら” can be written as 油 or 脂.

油 means “biological or mineral oil that is liquid at room temperature.”

Could you get a bottle of sesame oil from the grocery store?

Because their relationship is like oil and water.

A lot of oil spilled in the accident.

脂 means “biological fat that is solid at room temperature” or “fatty oils secreted through skin.”

I don’t like the fat on meat.

My boss’s face is very greasy.

When he saw his wife, he broke out in a clammy sweat.

あやしい (怪しい VS 妖しい)

“あやしい” can be written as 怪しい or 妖しい.

怪しい means “suspicious, irregular, or unclear” .

I saw a suspicious man in front of my house.

妖しい means “enchanting or mysterious.”

The diamond on her ring shined tantalizingly.

あらわす (表す VS 現す)

“あらわす” can be written as 現す or 表す.

現す means to “reveal or come out.”

She finally showed her true character.

The sun just came out!

表す means “to express a thought” or “to make a chart or a graph.”

He showed sadness on his face.

It’s difficult to express my feelings in words.

いたむ (痛む VS 傷む)

Japanese Homophones Itamu

“いたむ” can be written as 痛む or 傷む.

痛む means “to feel physical or emotional pain.”

I hurt my back while helping my brother move.

This debt gives me headache.

傷む means “to receive damage that leaves a wound, breaks something, or reduces value.”

This onion is bad.

My hair was damaged by the pool water.

うた (歌 VS 唄)

“うた” can be written as 歌 or 唄.

歌 means “song” or “words set to music.”

I really like this song.

唄 means “traditional Japanese music.”

I’m taking lessons to learn an epic song.

うつ (打つ VS 討つ VS 撃つ)

Japanese Homophones Utsu

“うつ” can be written as 打つ, 討つ, or 撃つ.

打つ means “to strike or hit.”

I saw her slap him.

I’m not good at hammering nails.

討つ means “to attack and destroy an opponent.”

I have avenged my parents.

撃つ means “to discharge a firearm.”

Is this your first time firing a gun?

うむ (生む VS 産む)

“うむ” can be written as 生む or 産む.

生む means “to give birth” or “to create something new.”

My daughter was born last night.

Haruki Murakami always creates a great story.

産む means “to physically birth a child from a mother’s body.”

It took 42 hours for me to give a birth.

She is my birth mother.

If you still find the nuance hard to grasp, just remember that 生 expresses a more general concept of birth, as in “date of birth,” while 産 invokes the physical act of a mother delivering her baby.

おかす (犯す VS 侵す VS 冒す)

“おかす” can be written as 犯す, 侵す, or 冒す.

犯す means “to break the law or to do something unethical.”

She confessed that she had committed a crime.

侵す means “to violate a border” or “to infringe upon rights.”

Do you think that this infringes on their rights?

冒す means “to brave a challenge” or “to dishonor a god.”

He braved danger and saved me.

おさまる (収まる VS 納まる VS 治まる VS 修まる)

“おさまる” can be written as 収まる, 納まる, 治まる, or 修まる.

収まる means “to put inside,” “to bind together,” or “to get a good result.”

The incident has reached a settlement.

納まる means “to settle something into its proper place,” “to put an end to something,” or “to finish.”

You have a duty to settle your taxes.

治まる means “to become problem-free” or “to govern.”

My throat pain finally went away.

修まるmeans “to be of good character or perform a splendid action” or “to acquire knowledge or skill.”

She learned French in university.

おす (押す VS 推す)

Japanese Homophones Osu

“おす” can be written as 押す or 推す.

押す means “to push.”

I pushed the door, but it won’t open.

推す means “to recommend,” “to guess,” or “to push forward.”

I am going to recommend you to the company president.

I find it interesting to note that 推す is used in idol otaku slang in the form of  “推し” (おし). 推し is used to refer to one’s favorite idol because they are “recommended” or “supported” by that person.

おりる (降りる VS 下りる)

“おりる” can be written as 降りる or 下りる.

降りる means “to disembark from a vehicle” or “to force to quit.”

I will call you back when I get off the train.

下りる means “to move from above to below,” “to cut off or pull down,” or “to start anew.”

I fell while climbing down a ladder.

かえす (返す VS 帰す)

“かえす” can be written as 返す or 帰す.

返す means “to return something to where it came from.”

Could you give me my money back?

帰す means “to return home,” “to return to an original place or form,” or “to settle down.”

I’m thinking of returning to my hometown.

かわる (変わる VS 換わる VS 替わる VS 代わる)

“かわる” can be written as 変わる, 換わ, 替わる, or 代わる.

変わる means “to change in status or condition.”

I changed the color of the wall.

He told me that he changed his mind.

換わ means “to swap or exchange.”

How can we register for a transfer of ownership?

替わる means “to change to something new.”

I made a parody song.

I have to change my baby’s diaper.

代わる means “to replace in a role” or “to act as a proxy.”

Why haven’t they relieved the pitcher?

I came here in place of my girlfriend.

All of the variations listed above are similar, but 換 and 替 are especially close in meaning. The former is used when trading one thing for another while the latter is used when changing to something original or fresh.

かおり (香り VS 薫り)

“かおり” can be written as 香り or 薫り.

香り means “fragrance” in a physical sense.

The scent of plum blossoms was wafting through the air.

This drink has a light vanilla scent.

薫り also means “fragrance,” but in an abstract sense, or “atmosphere.”

Sweden has a rich cultural atmosphere.

かく (書く VS 描く)

Japanese Homophones Kaku

“かく” can be written as 書く or 描く.

書く means “to write characters, words, or sentences.”

I have to write a letter to my customer tonight.

描く means, “to draft a chart” or “to draw a picture.”

I want to be good at drawing manga.

かげ (陰 VS 影)

“かげ” can be written as 陰 or 影.

陰 means “a place where light doesn’t reach” or “a place which you can’t see.”

Let’s rest in the shade of that tree.

She is the one who has been supporting us from behind the scenes.

影 means “shadow or silhouette.”

I saw the reflection of somebody on the window.

The post cast its shadow on the lawn.

かた (形 VS 型)

“かた” can be written as 形 or 型.

形 means “visible shape” or “form.”

How did you bake a pyramid-shaped cake?

You should learn proper karate form.

型 means “set pattern or type.”

What is your blood type?

I have a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

かたい (堅い VS 固い VS 硬い)

“かたい” can be written as 堅い, 固い, or 硬い.

堅い means “reliable,” “tough,” or “solid” in reference to internal composition.

This is such a solid business.

What’s the name of this solid lumber.

固い means “strong or unwavering” in reference to a connection or commitment.

My dad is very stubborn.

They seemed to be connected with strong ties.

硬い is the literal opposite of “soft” and means “highly resistant against external forces” or “stiff.”

The comedian is nervous and can’t loosen up.

This is the tool to split a hard shell.

かなしい (悲しい VS 哀しい)

“かなしい” can be written as 悲しい or 哀しい.

Both variations have basically the same meaning of “sad, unhappy, or sorrowful” or “touching”.

I’m so sad.

What a sad story it is.

It’s with great sorrow that we announce the death of Mr.Godzilla this morning.

It should be noted that, while 哀しい is less common, being reserved mainly for literary use, 悲しい and 哀しい can be used interchangeably in most contexts. There is a slight connotative difference between the two words, however:

If you look at the kanji “悲”, you will see the radical for heart (心) underneath the radical 非, which invokes the idea of wings. Thus, 悲 refers to a pain that could rip your heart out.

If you look at the kanji  “哀”, you will see the radical for mouth (口) and clothes (衣). Together, they express the idea of a mouth being hidden. As such, 哀 connotes a sadness that you can’t express verbally.

かわ (皮 VS 革)

Japanese Homophones Kawa

Photos by toholio and Petra

“かわ” can be written as 皮 or 革.

皮 means “skin of an animal or plant” or “a layer that conceals a thing’s true nature.”

Do you eat onion skins?

I don’t like the fish skin.

革 means “processed animal hide” or “leather.”

I bought a leather bag for his birthday present.

かわく (乾く VS 渇く)

“かわく” can be written as 乾く or 渇く.

乾く means “to lack moisture.”

Has the laundry not dried, yet?

渇く means “to be thirsty or parched” or “to strongly desire.”

I’m thirsty.

きく (聞く VS 聴く VS 訊く)

“きく” can be written as 聞く, 聴く, or 訊く.

聞く means “to hear a sound,” “to take into consideration,” or “to ask.”

I could hear someone talking.

Please hear me!

聴く means “to actively listen to something.”

What kind of music do you listen to?

The prime minister should listen to the voice of the people.

訊く means “to ask a clarifying question” or “to search for a clear answer” and is mostly used in writing.

Why do you ask me such a thing?

I’ll ask him where we can dispose of these plastic bottles.

きく (利く VS 効く)

“きく” can be written as 利く or 効く.

利く means “to work or operate well” or “to be possible.”

He has sharp eyes.

She is so clever.

効く means “to have an effect.”

The medicine started working.

きる (切る VS 斬る)

Japanese Homophones Kiru

Photos by City Foodsters and Koichi

“きる” can be written as 切る or 斬る.

切る means “to split using a blade or scissors” or “to cut a connection.”

I’ll cut the cucumbers.

Do you call this a cut or a scratch?

斬る means “to injure with a katana sword” or “to levy sharp criticism.”

The samurai cut down the enemy.

He made a social commentary.

It should be restated that 斬る is used specifically when talking about traditional bladed Japanese weapons. If someone is cut or slain with something more mundane, like a kitchen knife or a saw, 切る would be used to describe the action.

こえる (超える VS 越える)

“こえる” can be written as 超える or 越える.

超える means “to surpass a standard, scope, or level.”

It was beyond my imagination.

I never expected the payment would be over 100,000 yen.

越える means “to pass through a place or point” or “to exceed a certain amount of time.”

We’ll drive for about 30 minutes before crossing prefectural lines.

You shouldn’t say anything that would cross the line.

こたえる (答える VS 応える)

“こたえる” can be written as 答える or 応える.

答える means “to answer or reply.”

I couldn’t answer the question on the spot.

応える means “to respond in kind” or “to remunerate.”

He tried too hard to meet his parents’ expectations.

さがす (探す VS 捜す)

Japanese Homophones Sagasu

Photos by Mark Moz and 20th Century Fox

“さがす” can be written as 探す or 捜す.

探す means “to search for something you want” or “to look for.”

We are searching for a house to buy.

I’m looking for a job.

捜すsecond one means “to seek a missing person or thing.”

We are searching for my sister.

The police are searching for the criminal.

さく (裂く VS 割く)

“さく” can be written as 裂く or 裂く.

裂く means “to tear or pull apart destructively.”

Who slashed my canvas?

Split the mushroom from end to end.

裂く means “to remove a portion.”

I don’t have any more time to spare.

We have to send our people to work, too.

しずまる (静まる VS 鎮まる)

“しずまる” can be written as 静まる or 鎮まる.

静まる means “to calm down or settle.”

The storm calmed.

The teacher couldn’t quiet down the students.

鎮まる means “to suppress,” “to die down,” or “to cease.”

The riot has finally been suppressed.

He would probably be the only person who could put an end to this civil war.

しぼる (絞る VS 搾る)

Japanese Homophones Shiboru

Photos by Peter Souza and Stevie Mann

“しぼる” can be written as 絞る or 搾る.

絞る means “to wring moisture out of,” “to exert effort,” or “to narrow down.”

Can you wring out the towel?

I strain my voice at concerts.

搾る means “to squeeze to extract liquid” or “to force out of someone.”

Can I squeeze this lemon?

I’ve never milked a cow.

Both versions of this word can be used to describe getting liquid out of something, but 絞る usually indicates using two hands whereas 搾る allows for extraction by weight or crushing force.

しまる (締まる VS 絞まる VS 閉まる)

“しまる” can be written as 締まる, 絞まる, or 閉まる.

締まる means “to tighten to remove any slack” or “to create a division.”

Wear your seatbelt, please!

絞まる means “to tighten around the neck.”

He was strangled by a snake

閉まる means “to close something that was open.”

Can I close the curtain?

すすめる (進める VS 勧める VS 薦める)

“すすめる” can be written as 進める, 勧める, or 薦める.

進める means “to move, put, or set something forward” or “to progress something.”

Can I carry out the procedures?

I set my watch ahead by 5 minutes.

勧める means “to influence someone to do something.”

He recommended that I join the gym where he goes.

What stock did the salesman recommend?

薦める means “to recommend or endorse something as being exceptional.”

My friend recommended an excellent French restaurant to me.

Where do you recommend to be the best sightseeing spot?

すわる(座る VS 据わる)

“すわる” can be written as 座る or 据わる.

座る means “to sit down” or “to arrive at a location or social position.”

I want to sit in that chair.

据わる means “to stabilize or settle in place.”

Has your baby’s head steadied yet?

せいさく (制作 VS 製作)

Japanese Homophones Saisaku

Photos by Zoro Mettini and Koichi

“せいさく” can be written as 制作 or 製作.

制作 means “artistic work.”

He is a Japanese anime producer.

製作 means “product or production.”

My company manufactures coils.

せめる (攻める VS 責める)

“せめる” can be written as 攻める or 責める.

攻める means “to launch a physical attack.”

We are going to attack their castle tonight.

責める means “to criticize” or “to cause suffering.”

I’m not blaming you.

そう (沿う VS 添う)

“そう” can be written as 沿う or 添う.

沿う means “to travel alongside” or “to keep in line with tradition or established rules.”

We walked along the stream.

I’m afraid we cannot accept your request.

添う means “to be attached to” or “to get married.”

She walked beside her grandmother.

Who is the man escorting her?

たいしょう (対称 VS 対照)

Japanese Homophones Taishou

Photos by Nam and Ryeowi Yang

“たいしょう” can be written as 対称 or 対照.

対称 means “symmetry.”

This building is lacking symmetry.

対照 means “contrast.”

Don’t you think that red contrasts well with blue?

たえる (耐える VS 堪える)

“たえる” can be written as 耐える or 堪える.

耐える means “to withstand hardship or external pressure.”

I won’t be able to handle this pressure any more.

堪える means “to have ability or value” or “to suppress an emotion.”

This movie was unbearable to watch.

たずねる (尋ねる VS 訪ねる)

“たずねる ” can be written as 尋ねる or 訪ねる.

尋ねる means “to inquire,” “to seek,” or “to investigate.”

We should ask someone for directions.

訪ねる means “to visit.”

We are planning a trip to visit my dad’s hometown.

たたかう (戦う VS 闘う)

Japanese Homophones Tatakau

Photos by US Army and Avon

“たたかう” can be written as 戦う or 闘う.

戦うmeans “to wage battle using weapons or wits” or “to battle for supremacy.”

They fought bloodily.

闘うmeans “to fight to overcome an obstacle or barrier.”

He is combatting cancer.

たつ (断つ VS 絶つ VS 裁つ)

“たつ ” can be written as 断つ, 絶つ or 裁つ.

断つ means “to sever a connection” or “to bring an end to.”

Were you able to sever the connection with your ex boyfriend?

絶つ means “to end midway” or “to interrupt.”

He killed himself.

裁つ means “to cut cloth according to measurements.”

We’ll cut a pattern first.

It should be noted that 断つ is usually used to talk about “cutting ties,” but if the speaker is emphasizing the abruptness of that situation, 絶つ is more appropriate.

たつ (立つ VS 建つ)

“たつ” can be written as 立つ or 建つ.

立つ means “to stand up straight,” “to exist in a condition,” “to occupy a position,” “to leave a place,” or “to establish.”

Let’s make a plan.

She left her seat without saying anything.

建つ means “to construct a building” or “to build a country.”

We are building a house.

Why don’t we erect a bronze statue of Koichi next to the Tokyo tower?

たま (玉 VS 球 VS 弾)

“たま” can be written as 玉, 球, or 弾.

玉 means “jewel” or  “round object.”

I enjoyed playing catch on Sports Day in Japanese school.

It’s soap bubbles.

球 means “ball used in sports” or “light bulb.”

Do we have ping-pong balls at home?

I’ve gotta go to buy a light bulb.

弾 means “bullet.”

Where can I buy handgun bullets?

My older brother got seriously injured by a stray bullet.

たまご (卵 VS 玉子)

Japanese Homophones Tamago

“たまご” can be written as 卵 or 玉子.

卵 refers to any type of “egg.”

My uncle brought us fresh eggs.

玉子 refers only to “cooked eggs.”

I drink eggnog when I have a cold.

It should be noted that, even though it’s cooked, ゆでたまご (boiled egg) is most commonly written as 茹で, not 茹で玉子. This is likely due to the fact that a 茹で卵 retains its original eggy shape.

Also, while 卵 can be used for all kinds of eggs, products at grocery stores mostly use 玉子”because 卵 has more of a biological perception attached to it.

つかう (使う VS 遣う)

“つかう” can be written as 使う or 遣う.

使う means “to use a person or thing.”

How much money did you spend?

遣う means “to utilize something well.”

You should learn the proper Kana usage.

使 is most commonly used for the verb form of つかう, whereas the noun form—where つかう is used as a suffix, as in まほうつかい (magic-user)—utilizes the kanji 遣.

つくる (作る VS 造る VS 創る)

“つくる” can be written as 作る, 造る, or 創る.

作る means “to make.”

I heard that he made his own company.

造る means “to manufacture” or “to mass produce.”

I’m learning the process of building a ship.

創る means “to create something original.”

This is a problem of his own making.

つとめる (勤める VS 務める VS 努める)

“つとめる” can be written as 勤める, 務める, or 務める.

勤める means “to work for pay” or “to perform a buddhist ceremony.”

Which company are you working at?

務める means “to fulfill a role or responsibility.”

I’m worried if she can fulfill her role as the company president.

務める means “to put in effort” or “to exert oneself.”

I’m trying to maintain my health.

とくちょう (特徴 VS 特長)

“とくちょう” can be written as 特徴 or 特長.

特徴 means “distinguishing or distinctive feature.”

Could you explain the characteristics of this wine?

特長 means “strong point or forte” or “a merit.”

My swing speed is my strong point.

ととのう (整う VS 調う)

“ととのう” can be written as 整う or 調う.

整う means “to put in order” or “to straighten up.”

It takes him thirty minutes to set his hair.

調う means “to get together what’s necessary” or “to create a pleasant situation.”

Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

とぶ (飛ぶ VS 跳ぶ)

Japanese Homophones Tobu

“とぶ” can be written as 飛ぶ or 跳ぶ.

飛ぶ means “to move through the air,” “to move far away,” or “to be spread out.”

An airplane is flying in the sky.

It seems that false rumors are spreading.

跳ぶ means “to leap.”

He jumped for joy.

The puppy jumped over a ditch.

とまる (止まる VS 留まる VS 泊まる)

“とまる” can be written as 止まる, 留まる, or 泊まる.

止まる means “to halt movement.”

How long can you hold your breath?

I stopped my car.

留まる means “to become fixed in place,” “to remain in your senses,” or “to stay somewhere.”

I wrote it down just in case.

Please fasten these with the latch.

泊まる means “to stay overnight.”

Can I sleepover at your place tonight?

とる (取る VS 採る VS 執る VS 捕る VS 撮る)

“とる” can be written as 取る, 採る, 執る, 捕る, or 撮る.

取る means “to hold or acquire,” “to write down,” “to connect,” “to remove,” or “to omit.”

Shouldn’t you write a memo?

I wonder if I can remove the stain from the shirt.

採る means “to collect,” “to harvest,” “to use,” or “to take over.”

We tap maple trees.

Let’s vote to decide.

執る means “to take in your hand and use” or “to perform a role.”

He will conduct our orchestra.

Can you lead from the rear?

捕る means “to capture.”

How did you catch the tuna?

撮る  means “to take photos or a video.”

Could you take a picture of us?

ながい (長い VS 永い)

“ながい” can be written as 長い or 永い.

長い means “long” or “lengthy in terms of distance or time.”

She has long hair.

永い means “eternal” or “forever” in a metaphorical sense.

She fell into an eternal sleep.

As you can hopefully tell from the examples above,  when speaking about time, 長い describes time that can be objectively set and measured, whereas 永い implies a more subjective view of time or the “feeling” of length.

におい (匂い VS 臭い)

Japanese Homophones Nioi

“におい” can be written as 匂い or 臭い.

匂い means “pleasant odor.”

I like the smell of maple syrup.

臭い means “unpleasant odor.”

I can smell the gas.

のる (乗る VS 載る)

“のる” can be written as 乗る or 載る.

乗る means “to get into or ride vehicle,” “to respond to,” “to trick,” or “to go with the flow.”

I’m on a train now.

Don’t press your luck.

載る means “to load,” “to place on top,” or “to put up.”

My articles are put on this website.

Can you help me load luggage into the car?

のばす (伸ばす VS 延ばす)

“のばす” can be written as 伸ばす or 延ばす.

伸ばす means “to straighten or extend” or “to increase.”

You should stretch out your arms and legs from time to time.

The weeds are growing.

延ばす means “to move to a later time,” “to accumulate,” “to widen or spread,” or “to increase length by addition.”

The start of the meeting was 10 minutes later than planned.

I can’t push back my departure.

のぼる (上る VS 登る VS 昇る)

Japanese Homophones Noboru

“のぼる” can be written as 上る, 登る, or 昇る.

上る means “to go upwards,” “to reach,” “to achieve,” or “to be a topic of discussion.” It is also the most general of the three variations used for expressing upward movement

I don’t want to climb the stairs.

Who will climb the ladder?

登る means “to reach a high location through one’s own effort” and it emphasizes the effort of surmounting a sharp incline.

Do you want to climb a mountain this weekend?

He is good at climbing trees.

t means “to rise upwards all at once or in a single action.”

Let’s ride an elevator.

I couldn’t help but cry as the sun rose.

はかる (図る VS 計る VS 測る VS 量る VS 謀る VS 諮る)

“はかる” can be written as 図る, 計る, 測る, 量る, 謀る, or 諮る.

図る means “to plan in order to achieve a goal.”

The company is working on improving their image.

計る means “to count time or numbers” or “to think over.”

You can measure the angle with my protractor.

測る means “to measure length, height, depth, width, or level” or “to estimate.”

I haven’t measured my height for a while.

量る means “to measure weight or volume” or “to make a guess.” (Note: If body weight and height are taken together as a series of measurements, like at the doctor’s, the more general 計る is used.)

I don’t want to weigh myself in front of people.

謀る means “to craft a sinister plot.”

We have to find out who plotted the assassination.

諮る means “to ask for an opinion.”

We have to refer this matter to the committee.

はじめ (初め VS 始め)

“はじめ” can be written as 初め or 始め.

初め means “early stages,” “beginning,” or “first.”

This is my first time eating sushi.

始め means “the act of starting,” “the very first stage,” or “key player.”

I just started eating supper.

はな (花 VS 華)

“はな” can be written as 花 or 華.

花 means “flower” or “something that grabs attention like a flower.”

The cherry blossoms are in bloom.

華 is used to compare things to flowers metaphorically. It can also refer to “the part best representative of the whole.”

She was dressed gorgeously that night.

はね (羽 VS 羽根 VS 翅)

“はね” can be written as 羽, 羽根 or 翅.

羽 means “bird wings or feathers.”

The crane fluttered its wings.

羽根 means “loose bird feathers.”

He got me a quill for my birthday.

翅 means “insect wings.”

I collect the wings of insects.

はやい (早い VS 速い)

Japanese Homophones Hayai

Photos by Ed Gregory and Jeff Kubina

“はやい” can be written as 早い or 速い.

早い means “early,” “ahead of schedule,” or “short” in relation to time.

My parents wake up early.

You are so hasty.

速い means “speedy” or “accelerating.”

Can you talk a little bit faster?

ふえる (増える VS 殖える)

“ふえる” can be written as 増える or 殖える.

増える means “to increase in number or amount.”

My weight increased by 10 kilograms.

殖える means “to increase wealth or assets” or “to increase an animal or plant population.”

The cockroach population is increasing.

ふく (吹く VS 噴く)

“ふく” can be written as 吹く or 噴く.

吹く means “to dispel air,” “to breathe out,” or “to show outwardly.”

My wife is bad at whistling.

噴く means “to discharge air or liquid in copious amounts.”

The engine belched fire and my car stopped.

ふね (舟 VS 船)

Japanese Homophones Fune

“ふね” can be written as 舟 or 船.

舟 means “large sea-faring vessel.”

I bought a ship.

船 means “small or simple boat.”

I made a bamboo boat.

へいこう (平行 VS 並行 VS 平衡)

“へいこう” can be written as 平行, 並行 or 平衡.

平行 means “parallelism.” Therefore, when a debate never ends we say that “the argument is parallel,” or 議論が平行する (ぎろんがへいこうする).

They are making a road parallel to the railroad.

並行 means “adjacency” or “synchronicity.”

Two cars drove side by side.

平衡 means “equilibrium” or “balance.”

I suddenly lost my balance.

ほか (外 VS 他)

“ほか” can be written as 外 or 他.

外 means “outside” in reference to a scope or area.

Things went better than I expected.

他 means “something different” or “something else.”

I’m going to look for another girl.

まざる (交ざる VS 混ざる)

“まざる” can be written as 交ざる or 混ざる.

交ざる means “to mix together such that the original elements are still discernible or discrete.”

Who shuffled the cards?

I can’t read sentences written in kana and kanji yet.

混ざる means “to mix together such that the original elements become indiscernible.”

Please mix the wasabi and soy sauce.

She stirred her latte with a spoon.

To clarify further, if you mix multiple kinds of coffee beans together, you would use 交ざる, as the beans remain whole and (to a degree) separate. If you were to make coffee from that blend, however, you would use 混ざる to describe the state of the coffee types.

まち (町 VS 街)

Japanese Homophones Machi

“まち” can be written as 町 or 街.

町 means “district with boundaries determined by the government” or “neighborhood.”

I work at the town hall.

We grew up in the same town.

街 means “downtown area” or “bustling city streets.”

Who is the beautiful girl standing on the street corner?

This downtown is known for its bustling student life.

まるい (丸い VS 円い)

“まるい” can be written as 丸い or 円い.

丸い means “spherical” or “peacefully.”

Ancient people didn’t know that the earth is round.

円い means “circular,” “complete,” or “friendly.”

I want to make a round door, like in The Hobbit.

The Japanese national flag is referred to as 日の (ひのまる), even the symbol is a circle. The reasoning behind it is that the red circle is meant to represent the sun, which is spherical.

まわり (回り VS 周り)

“まわり” can be written as 回り or 周り.

回り means “rotation” or “the area around something.”

Turn that clockwise.

周り means “surroundings” or “perimeter or circumference.”

I jogged around the lake.

みる (見る VS 観る VS 診る)

Japanese Homophones Miru

“みる” can be written as 見る, 観る, or 診る.

見る means “to view or look at” or “to tend to.”

Could you check the engine of my car?

観る means “to actively watch a performance, sports, or a movie.”

I’m going to watch a soccer game tonight.

診る means “to examine.”

You should have a doctor look at you (at least) once.

めざめる(目覚める VS 覚醒める)

“めざめる” can be written as 目覚める or 覚醒める.

目覚める means “to wake up or be awake” or “to be rid of a mistaken idea”.

I woke up at 10am today.

I woke up from a bad dream.

覚醒める also means “to wake up or be awake”, but it is more-often used to mean “to lose one’s illusions or come to one’s senses”. It can also refer to awakening someone’s special powers or abilities.

The time has come for the people to awaken.

She hasn’t realized her ESP yet.

もと (下 VS 元 VS 本 VS 基)

“もと” can be written as 下, 元, 本, or 基.

下 means “beneath, below, or down” or “subordinate or junior.”

All are equal under the law.

元 means “source,” “former or ex-,” “nearby area,” or “funds.”

She is my ex-wife.

本 means “root or foundation.”

Everything must be corrected from the ground up.

基 means “platform or basis.”

We’ll make a decision based on more detailed data.

や (屋 VS 家)

“や” can be written as 屋 or 家.

屋 means “building or place of business,” “-store,” or “character trait.”

I’m working part-time at a flower shop.

家 means “dwelling.”

I need to talk to the homeowner about the rent.

Let’s meet up at the empty house.

やさしい (優しい VS 易しい)

“やさしい” can be written as 優しい or 易しい.

優しい means “empathetic,” “kind or gentle,” or “dignified.”

He is nice to everyone.

易しい means “easy.”

This is an easy job that anyone could do.

やぶれる (破れる VS 敗れる)

“やぶれる” can be written as 破れる or 敗れる.

破れる means “to fall apart or be damaged.”

My pantyhose are torn.

敗れる means “to lose.”

He lost the election.

やわらかい (柔らかい VS 軟らかい)

Japanese Homophones Yawarakai

“やわらかい” can be written as 柔らかい or 軟らかい.

柔らかい means “fluffy,” “elastic,” “gentle,” or “soft” in relation to to surface texture.

This blanket is so soft.

軟らかい means “offering little resistance to touch, penetration, or compression.”

The ground is getting soft.

よい (良い VS 善い)

“よい” can be written as 良い or 善い.

良い means “superior” or “favorable.”

Your English pronunciation is so good.

善い means “virtuous.”

I want to do something good in the world.

よむ (読む VS 詠む)

“よむ” can be written as 読む or 詠む.

読む means “to read,” “to understand content,” or “to predict or guess.”

My dad is reading a newspaper.

Don’t try to read my emotions.

詠む means “to compose a song or poem.”

Let’s compose a haiku.

わかれる (分かれる VS 別れる)

“わかれる” can be written as 分かれる or 別れる.

分かれる means “to separate into parts” or “to differentiate.”

Why do we have to separate into enemies and allies?

別れる means “to separate from another person.”

I was separated from my father when I was child.

We broke up over a fight.

わずらう (煩う VS 患う)

Japanese Homophones Wazurau

“わずらう ” can be written as 煩う or 患う.

煩う means “to worry.”

I’m worried we won’t find a good house.

患うmeans “to suffer from illness.”

She suffered from a serious illness, but she has completely recovered.

A Japanese Homophones Postlogue

Congratulations! You made it to the end of this pretty meaty list and are surely wiser for it.

One thing to keep in mind, though: While understanding these differences will certainly enrich your overall understanding (and help you with your Wanikani reviews), don’t stress out too much about trying to keep them in your head during normal speech. For the most part, you’ll be able to puzzle out which version of each word is being used based off of context clues.

Good luck, and if you have any questions for me about anything covered in this article, don’t hesitate to email us at hello@tofugu.com!


Sakurajima – Japan’s Most Active Volcano

Recently, people have been talking a lot about Sakurajima, an island that is home to Japan’s most active volcano. Experts say it might violently erupt soon. The seismograph is off the charts. Actually, Tofugu made a video about it recently if you want to catch up on the news.

But actually, the volcano at Sakurajima erupts quite frequently. Plumes of smoke are a common sight. I went to Sakurajima before all the hubbub started, so I can show you what the volcano is normally like, when people aren’t freaking out about it.

sakurajima pathway

Sakurajima, which means, “Cherry blossom Island,” is the most famous sightseeing spot in Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan. If you head down that way, be sure to check it out. It’s not often you can go see a smoking volcano!

sakurajima the smoking volcano

It was just an island in the bay until a powerful eruption in 1914. The “-jima” (島) in Sakurajima actually means “island.” But after 1914, which was the largest volcanic eruption in Japan of the 20th century, the lava turned the island into a peninsula! That’s a pretty impressive lava flow. By that time, it was too late to change the name, so it’s still called Sakurajima.

buried shrine at sakurajima

buried torii gate at sakurajima

You can tell how massive the lava flow from that eruption must have been by depth at which this shrine gate is buried. That lava connected the island and the Osumi Peninsula.

massive smoke at sakurajima

posing at sakurajima

As you can see in the picture, the air was so filled with smoke and ash that we barely able to open our eyes at some points. Even though this was a regular day, the volcano was still active enough to blind us a little. You can imagine what it would be like if it really erupts!

sakurajima stone sign

This is a great observation platform. It’s called Yunohira Tembousho. You get a great view. If you look at the bottom left of the photo you can see two people taking a selfie with Sakurajima. This area offers some great photo opportunities. チーズ!

sakurajima beautiful view

The view of the sea and the Osumi Peninsula from the volcano is quite nice too.

sakurajima rock monument

Regrettably, at the end of our trip we weren’t able to make it to this great rock and roll monument, which is nearby Sakurajima. So close, yet so far away. If you go there, please find it for me.

Sakurajima Rating

  • Uniqueness: 8/10 – I don’t think there are many active volcanoes that are also sightseeing spots in Japan, so I rated it an eight.
  • Fun: 7/10 – This was my first volcano, so I was excited to see it, though I thought I would be able to get a little closer to it.
  • Accessibility: 4/10 – It’s a 15-minute ferry ride from Kagoshima Chuo station.
  • Overall: 6/10 – I’m not sure if I’ll go back here again, but if you’re ever in this area, you should definitely check it out at least once.


Rating: 6/10

Sakurajima Access


20 Differences Between Japanese and Western Schools

The majority of your time on JET will be spent at one or more schools. While differences in culture and daily life will likely be quirky and interesting, differences in the education system stand to shock you most of all.

The more you know about these differences before you arrive for your first day of work, the less shocking those differences will be and the more smooth your transition. There will be a steep learning curve no matter what, so why not take some time to educate yourself and decrease the incline?

Please note that things listed here are what you’ll most likely encounter at your placement on JET. There are always exceptions. But these are generally the kinds of situations you’ll encounter.




Photo by 鈴木 宏一

There are no school buses as some may be used to in their home countries. Students tend to live close to the school which they attend, so walking and biking is the way 99% of kids will arrive for a day of study.

High school is another story. Because students test into upper secondary education, they may or may not live in the same town as their high school. Thus many students may come by bus or train. Driving to school is not an option as the legal driving age in Japan is 18 and even after obtaining a driver’s license, students aren’t supposed to drive to school.


If you’re in the same town as one of the schools you’re teaching at, you’ll likely be walking or biking to work alongside your students. If you take public transit to a high school outside your town, you may be sitting on the bus or train near your students.

Entrance Exams and Cram School

japanese high schools students pass college entrance exams

Photo by Chris73

To get a good job in Japan, you need to go to a good university. To get into a good university, you need to pass that university’s entrance exams. The universities you can apply for depend on the high school you attended. To get into a good high school, you need pass the high school entrance exams. And prep for those usually start in junior high, but can start much earlier.

The most common form of prep comes in the for of cram schools or 塾 (juku). These are after school schools where kids pay money for extra education in a particular subject or for help in passing important exams. They especially come into play when students are trying to pass entrance exams.

Cram schools have a lot of critics and proponents. But the fact is they are major part of the Japanese educational landscape and how it functions.


This won’t affect you directly, but it will affect what you teach. The intense focus on testing touches all parts of education culture in Japan. Though you likely won’t be helping any of your students with entrance exams directly, you will be surrounded with the test-centric mindset. This can impact how students respond to your lessons, what your JTEs want you to teach, and more.

Behavior and Discipline


Photo by Mike

Most peoples’ image of the Japanese classroom is one of quiet studiousness and respect for authority. Those who research online may find horror stories of chaotic classrooms with Mad Max-esque social structures. The truth is somewhere in between. As I mentioned before, my school leaned toward the difficult side. But even I had classes full of well-behaved kids. Most schools will have a mixture of both. Kids are kids all over the world, which means you can expect a range of personalities with a touch of childish behavior in each.

How misbehaving students are dealt with in Japan is often the subject of debate. While on JET, I heard this common story: Because the Japanese constitution states that “no child shall be denied an education” (Article 26), teachers are not allowed to send children out of the classroom. I’ve never been able to find evidence proving this idea. But I certainly never saw teachers send students out (maybe because disruptive kids would eventually leave on their own to go smoke).

Either way, discipline is up to the Japanese teacher. Sometimes they’ll control the class and sometimes they won’t (or can’t). There’s also a different standard as to what is considered “bad behavior” so a student’s sleeping may get on your nerves, while your JTE isn’t bothered by it at all.


This is by far the greatest source of tension for visiting ALTs. Seeing behavior that wouldn’t fly in your home country go unpunished (or unaddressed) can be infuriating, especially if that bad behavior is directed at you. Try talking with JTEs or your supervisor and frankly tell them your feelings about the situation. Tell them why the situation frustrates you and ask them to help you understand the Japanese mindset behind discipline in your school.

Truthfully, there’s no hard and fast rules to coping with this difficult subject. What you’ll likely find is that behavior and the mood of the school shift throughout the year. Good classes get rowdy, bad students become your favorites, and the whole group dynamic is in constant flux. Expect major cultural differences in this area and do your best to communicate honestly with trusted coworkers when you need help.

Failing Grades


Photo by Caro Wallis

One of the biggest shocks I had was discovering that students at the elementary and junior high school levels can’t fail a grade. They will always be advanced to the next grade regardless of test scores or attendance. Or so I was told by many ALTs. I never saw hard evidence of this, like a student’s actual report card. Even the wikipedia article that makes this claim lists no sources. But I did attend the graduation where all the yankis who never came to class got their diplomas. That’s some kind of evidence, I suppose.


Coming from the U.S. where fear of failing kept me studying hard, this policy really boggled my mind. A lot of other ALTs I knew were confused and shocked by this as well. A real “does not compute” kind of feeling. Especially when a student that’s been driving you nuts and not doing any work gets the graduate with those that worked hard.

But for better or worse, this is another thing that you have no control over and is best to let go. It’s been part of the Japanese way of doing school for a while and it’s probably not going to change any time soon. Really, with the education systems focus on entrance exams, it kind of makes sense. Passing on to the next grade isn’t what advances your academic career. Passing entrance exams does. In theory, someone who did no work at school, but studied hard at cram school could pass the entrance exams and get into a good high school. Conversely, someone who does great in school could still fail the entrance exams and not be able to advance academically.

Also the practical upside is that no student, no matter how difficult, will be a thorn in your side year after year.


Teachers’ Room


Photo by MC MasterChef

As mentioned above, the classroom belongs to the students and even the homeroom teacher doesn’t have a desk there. The home base for all teachers is the teachers’ room, a safe haven for lesson planning and decompression, most of the time. In theory, students aren’t allowed in the teachers’ room without permission, but this depends on the school. Schools with large numbers of rowdy students may have trouble keeping said students out, though they’ll certainly try.

Tofugu’s own Rich calls the teachers’ room his favorite part of the Japanese school system:

This room helps foster a sense of camaraderie and cooperation. Daily morning meetings allow a chance for announcements and make sure all staff members catch up on the latest events, problems, and concerns.


At first, the teachers’ room can feel a bit weird for those of us from cultures where cubicles and personal space are the norm, but the camaraderie Rich mentions is mostly due to the open setup.

Though the teachers’ room has stresses of its own, it’s a retreat from the stresses of student activity. That said, it’s not like the fabled “teachers’ lounge” in the U.S. where no student may tread. Students sometimes visit, with and without permission. Be ready for visits of curiosity and annoyance from certain kids. Some can be fun while others less so. You are still on duty while at school, so handling these situations is part of your job. Talk with your supervisor if you’re having trouble with too many visits at your desk.

Teacher Rotation


Teachers in your home country most likely work at and for a particular school. To change schools would be their choice. In Japan, however, teachers work either for the municipal or prefectural boards of education. This means that their positions are subject to change every year when the school year ends in March. A teacher could be at school for one year, ten years, or more. It all depends on the particular BOE and their secret ways, which are many and, well, secret.


Teacher rotation is tough for the ALT who may already have a tough time forming bonds in Japan as it is. If a certain JTE is great to work with, they may not be around the next year. Conversely, if a certain JTE makes for difficult collaboration, you may not have to deal with them your whole time on JET. This is certainly a mixed blessing that will keep you on your toes and constantly meeting new people.


Uniforms and Dress Code


Photo by Ryo FUKAsawa

At the elementary level, uniforms are not required. Private schools may have uniforms at this age, but most elementary students have dress codes rather than uniforms. The closest thing elementary kids have to a uniform is their cute yellow hats and hard shell randoseru backpacks.

Junior high is the beginning of the iconic Japanese school uniform, with dark jackets and pants for the boys and sailor shirts and skirts for the girls. This continues into high school, though the uniforms may be more stylish to attract higher level applicants.


Not much besides a difference in culture. Your dress will be dictated by your school and contracting organization. It could be as informal as polo shirts and blouses or as formal as suits. The practical aspects of the uniform won’t affect you. But the idea behind it, the concept of uniformity, most certainly will.

The School Year


Photo by きうこ

If you’re coming to JET from the U.S like I was, the “back to school” season may conjure memories of falling orange leaves, crisp weather, and those waning summer days. Not so in Japan. School starts in springtime. The Japanese school year begins in April and runs through March of the following year. An example schedule is as follows:

  • First Term – early April to late July
  • Summer Break – late July to late August (usually 6 weeks)
  • Second Term – early September to late December
  • Winter Break – late December to early January (usually 2 weeks)
  • Third Term – early January to late March
  • Spring Break – late March to early April (usually 1 week)

And the cycle continues…

Bear in mind that the above is an example of the norm, but exact start and end times vary throughout the country due to weather and other factors. Still, it’s very likely that your school’s schedule will look something like this one.


As a JET Program participant, you’ll arrive in Japan in late summer when the school year is halfway over. You’ll certainly be welcomed in some capacity, but you’re essentially jumping into a race that everyone else has been running for 5 months. This can make your transition a little more complicated. Bear this in mind as you start your new life. Be patient with yourself and your host environment as you get situated.

Grade Levels


Photo by Ippei Suzuki

Grade levels in Japan more or less correspond to those in other countries, with slight variations:

  • Elementary School: 1-6
  • Junior High School: 1-3
  • High School: 1-3


There isn’t a whole lot of adjusting to do in this area. It’s just good information to know. Knowing Japanese grade levels will simply give you an idea of the range of English levels you’ll be dealing with as a teacher. Junior and High school both have half the range as Elementary, which is wider. 



Photo by ajari

Classrooms belong to the students, plain and simple. Rather than move around from class to class, as is the norm in the U.S., students stay in their homeroom and teachers of various subjects come to them. The exceptions are P.E., home economics, music, certain science classes, or any subject that requires more than desk for learning to take place.

Students generally spend all years at a given school with the same group of classmates. This homeroom resides in one room, cleans that room, eats in that room, and sometimes even decorates it. This system has it pros and cons, but the end result is that school groups become a family in and of themselves.

Each class has a homeroom teacher who is expected to be involved in their students’ lives, almost like a surrogate parent. This includes home visits during which the teacher meets each student and their parents.


The “family” element of Japanese homerooms can be a lot like real families: functional and empowering or dysfunctional and detrimental (or some mixture of both). The classroom is the student’s turf, so gaining control can depend heavily on what kind of “family” you’re entering into. This doesn’t mean certain classes are “hopeless,” rather more focus on engagement may be required. This can lead to enhanced bonding with the JTE of that classroom and other rewards not offered by more compliant classes.



Photo by Tokyo Times

The no-shoes-in-the-house custom extends to school where every student has their own locker or cubby for shoes right at the entrance. (No locker for books though. Students keep all books and personal effects with them in their homerooms.)

Besides the normal indoor school shoes, there’s usually a gym shoe requirement as well to keep those shiny wooden planks their squeakiest.


You’ll also have to take off your outdoor shoes off before coming into work. Buy a comfy pair of school shoes since you’ll be wearing them 8+ hours a day. Don’t be afraid to drop some cash on an Amazon purchase for the perfect footwear. I started my JET career with a cheap pair of $20 school shoes and paid the price within a month. Get something with a lot of support. Your spine will thank you.

A minor annoyance you may run into is being unable to exit school from any doorway but the one you came in. It probably won’t happen often, but eventually you’ll need to talk to a teacher who is out on the athletic field and your outdoor shoes will be at the other end of the building.


Lunch Time


Photo by Chris Lewis

Japanese schools don’t have cafeterias and students eat in their homerooms. They eat either school provided lunch called 給食 (kyuushoku) or bring a bento from home.

Junk food is not allowed at school, not even juice. This didn’t stop my rowdy students from munching kombini snacks out of their backpacks, so don’t be too surprised if you see this rule broken from time to time.


The no junk food rule extends to teachers while students are in the building. This is the same line of thinking that keeps AC off in the teacher’s room during summer. It can be frustrating if you come from a culture where teachers enjoy privileges students don’t. Even if you don’t understand the reasoning, try to accept it as one of those things that just is the way it is (and sneak matcha kit kats from your desk when no one is looking).

Cleaning Time


Japanese schools don’t have janitors. Instead they set aside time for students to clean the building. This is called お掃除 (osouji). It’s the Pikmin approach to cleanliness. While the thoroughness of the cleaning depends on the individual student, it can’t be denied that the practice in itself is a good bonding experience that (most likely) teaches responsibility. Plus, the school usually plays wacky music around this time, which is a nice mood change.


You may or may not be asked or expected to participate in cleaning time, but give it a try anyway. It’s one of those things that makes you feel better despite not wanting to do it. Not to mention, cleaning time gives you a nice break from the teacher persona and lets you have a little more fun with your students.

Club Activities


A good slogan for Japanese schools would be “Come for the compulsory education, stay for the club activities.” Whatever the students’ feelings toward classes are, club activities are a different story. Long after school ends, clubs continue for kids to run, play, build, compete, and do anything but study. The school becomes a different place after classes end. And staying to experience it is worth your time.


You don’t have to try out for these clubs and they aren’t about competing or beating other teams. They’re more for self-improvement and togetherness. Thus, you joining a club shouldn’t be because you’re an expert who will help the team, but rather because your participation in a team will help you build skills and relationships.

If you do choose to join a club, however, be clear about how many times you intend to visit. If you visit once, it will be assumed you’re in it for good. That means every day after school and some weekends. It’s okay to visit once a week, or however you choose. Just be clear with the teacher of the club and the club members that you’ll be committing a predetermined amount of time.

School Festivals


Japanese schools have two main festivals a year: Sports Day and the Culture Festival. There may be more but these are the two you’ll most likely encounter.

  • Sports Day: Usually held in in late summer, Sports Day or 運動会 (undoukai) is a full day or two of relay races, long jumps, and various other events. It’s a great chance for friendly competition and group bonding.
  • Culture Festival: This festival is a bit more nebulous as it’s defined by MEXT as “[an event] which aims to use the results of everyday learning to heighten motivation.” It also goes by the names, Daily Life Exhibition, Learning Exhibition, and School Festival. Classrooms are transformed into cafes or stops for activities. Students perform. Food can happen. Almost anything goes at a culture festival as long as it’s nice and heightens motivation.
  • Chorus Concert: Students singing. Oh, those singing students. That’s about it.


Not much besides some days off work, organizing events, and participating in them. Festivals are a welcome break from the teaching routine. Plus there’s usually enkai after!



This has nothing to do with students and everything to do with you. Enkai are arguably one of the greatest benefits of being a teacher and you’ll want to go to as many as possible.


Eating, drinking, and karaoke. Enkai are essential morale boosting and bond forming experiences for teachers. If you’re feeling disconnected at your school, go to an enkai. It won’t fix all your problems, but it’ll certainly help a lot. At the very least you’ll get some great food and drink.

Enkai can be expensive, up to and exceeding ¥10,000. If there are many in a row, it can be tempting to start ducking out. If you really can’t afford it, by all means decline. But the JET salary is rather generous, and the money you save won’t be worth the experiences you’ll miss out on. Enkai are exclusive to those in a particular company, restricting even spouses of coworkers. If you’re invited to an enkai, you are part of a group and the more group stuff you do, the easier it is to function in that group.



Who doesn’t like a good ceremony? Japan certainly doesn’t not love them a whole damn lot. There are usually ceremonies at the open and close of each trimester. But none are more grandiose than the big two: the Entrance and Graduation Ceremonies.

The Entrance Ceremony or 入学式 (nyuugakushiki) is a momentous day for students, but more so for parents. Older students will help younger students find their classrooms where they meet their homeroom teacher and classmates. Parents congregate in the gym where the students eventually come back to join them. Then the ceremonies begin: speeches, songs, school song, more speeches, speeches, and then perhaps even a speech. Parents usually eat up the entire day snapping pictures and fixing hairs. Though probably dryer than ceremonies in western countries, the opening ceremony is not unlike mandatory school gatherings elsewhere, and this similarity is interesting to note for the visiting ALT.

Graduation Ceremony or 卒業式 (sotsugyoushiki) is much like the Entrance Ceremony but more serious. Again, there will be the school song, the national anthem, other songs, and lots of speeches. Of course, students will get up to receive their diplomas and a good deal of crying will ensue in various pockets of the gymnasium. This is probably the best ceremony because emotions are high, making it less dry and more meaningful.


For opening and closing ceremonies during the school year, it means sitting through speeches in the gymnasium. For opening and graduation ceremonies, it means experiencing a very important cultural part of Japanese life. Yes, it’s still speeches and songs but they’re speeches and songs that mean a lot to the people involved.

As a side note, pay attention to homeroom teachers sitting near you or try to sit as far away from them as you can. During certain parts of ceremonies, homeroom teachers may sit and stand over and over, which might fake you out prompting you to stand when you’re not supposed to.

When it comes to the music of the ceremony, try and learn your school song. Every school in Japan has a song. It’s fun to sing along with the teachers and students and gives a greater sense of belonging if you take the effort to learn it. My school was pretty difficult to integrate into and I found learning the school song a pretty helpful step towards feeling more motivated in my job.

Machines and Contraptions



Photo by eric_abert

There are usually large restrooms on each floor in varying degrees of modernity. Floor toilets are most common, though the teacher’s bathroom may feature a western style toilet.


If you need to go while teaching on the third floor, far from the teachers’ bathroom, it may mean toiletting with students. Floor toilets may seem intimidating or weird at first, but the position it forces you to be in is actually more natural for the human body than sitting upright.

Heating and Cooling


Japanese schools don’t usually have AC, though there are pushes here and there to have it added. There may be heating and cooling units in the teachers’ room, but this doesn’t make it a comfort sanctuary. If your school does have AC, it can’t be used until after the students leave, as teachers are expected to endure the same conditions students do. If your students are gone and it’s June 29th, you’re still out of luck. AC use is dictated by your BOE, and schools generally aren’t allowed to use it until July 1. This has everything to do with the “cool biz” campaign started in 2005 to reduce the amount of electricity used in Japan during the summer. The upside is every day in summer is casual Friday!

Schools may or may not have heat. If they do, it will be in the form of kerosene heaters in each classroom, which requires the opening of windows to keep everyone from suffocating on fumes. This may seem counterintuitive, but keeping the windows open has a second purpose: ensuring that cold and flu germs get flushed out into the open air rather than swirling around inside. There’s a lot of pros and cons to this open window winter practice, but it’s common throughout East Asia so it’s not likely to change any time soon.


This may mean a lot or very little depending on how you personally deal with hot and cold. Chances are you handle one of these well and the other not so much.

Coping with the heat means casual (but not too casual) wear every day of the week. It’s actually a nice break from the otherwise formal atmosphere. The whole school takes on a relaxed feel. The downside, of course, is it’s really REALLY hot. The second upside is taking part in Japan’s heat-enduring culture. It may feel terrible at first, but you won’t be the only one. It sucks to be hot when everyone else is comfy in their Escalades. But it’s strangely refreshing when everyone is enduring the heat together.

Coping with the cold means dressing in layers. I personally hate cold so the first month of winter with open windows was torture. But once I learned to layer from top to bottom (thermal shirts and leggings), winter actually became pretty nice. There’s also a cold enduring culture in Japan as well, which will bond you to your students and coworkers.


Differences Between Japanese and American Schools old computers

Photo by Mandias

Schools in Japan tend not to have much built in tech for the classroom, though some prefectures are experimenting with mixed results. The teachers’ room should have one or two computers, some printers, copiers, and fax machines. But that will likely be the extent of your school’s futuristic powers. The only tech in the Japanese classroom is the kind you bring with you.

Despite everything I just wrote, I will contradict it by saying that my school, while being severely inaka and low performing, had computers and projectors in every classroom. As the old and hated saying goes, every situation is different.

Tech Side Note: If you’re really lucky your school will have a room with a giant console dedicated to recording audio cassettes. Those things are awesome.


The burden of implementing slideshows, videos, audio, and other media rests on you. But even if you have an iPad to bring to class, the screen is only so big and it may not be something you want to pass around. This means that your lessons will end up analog. It’s definitely frustrating for the more tech-reliant (pointing at myself here). But constraints, though not fun, foster creativity.

Understanding Differences Between Japanese and American Schools

Differences Between Japanese and American Schools sunset and cherry blossoms

Photo by Suki Tamba

Though Japanese schools may sometimes feel upside down and backwards, the truth is they are part of a flawed and fully functional system that successfully prepares 10,000,000 human beings a year for real life. Bear in mind that while some things could stand improvement, most things work fine and are simply different. What’s more, some things in the Japanese classroom may be better than those in other countries. Consider this anecdote from American psychologist, Jim Stigler.

While visiting a classroom in Japan, Stigler observed Japanese students trying to draw a 3D cube with varying degrees of success. The teacher chose a boy who was struggling and had him come to the board to draw his cube. After an imperfect attempt, the teacher asked the class if he had done it correctly. They answered, “no.”

Stigler was terrified for the boy, but the boy didn’t get upset. Instead he continued throughout the rest of the class, after which the teacher asked again if he had gotten the cube right. The class answered, “yes” and the student returned to his seat triumphant.

What happened? Stigler explains:

I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart. It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.

The boy was allowed to struggle without judgment. These realizations can be hard to recognize without a psychology professor to point them out. But keep an eye out for them and keep reading about Japan and Japanese education during your time on JET. Understanding these things makes for much easier living. You don’t always have to agree, but it helps to know the ideas behind the realities you’re living in.

Get More JET Program Advice

This is only one article in our larger Tofugu JET Program Guide. It’s your experienced JET friend with the best knowledge and advice. Get help applying to JET, passing the interview, teaching, speeching, and more. The guide covers the JET experience from start to finish. It’s written by JET alumni and constantly updated.

Whether you’re applying for JET or already there, your new sempai will help you out.

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A Geek in Japan

If you were just beginning to learn about Japan, there might be some concepts and references in the conversation of old Japan hands that go right over your head. “I brought some omiyage from my trip to the onsen to the office, and after work we went out to an izakaya and my boss sang enka all night and told stories about how great life was before the economic bubble burst.”

A Geek in Japan is kind of like a brain dump of everything about Japan, from the trivial to the profound, that lies behind those conversations. If all the material in this book is familiar, congratulations: you don’t need it. And if you don’t yet know most of what’s in this book, it’s a pretty good crash course, with a couple of big caveats.

Nearly Everything Under the (Rising) Sun


A Geek in Japan isn’t what you might think from the title: it’s not about geeks in Japan. It’s written by a self-described geek in Japan, blogger Hector Garcia. So it’s not a compendium of otaku stuff, although that is certainly covered. Instead it’s a smorgasbord of bite-size to small-plate portions of just about everything. There are outlines of Japanese history digested down to a few paragraphs: if you don’t already know the basic “samurai → Edo period → Meiji period opening to the west” arc of Japanese history, you’ll get it here. You’ll come away knowing about ukiyo-e prints, the concept of “continuous improvement” in business, and how the custom of sort-of arranged marriages still exists. You’ll learn that the Yamanote line in Tokyo alone carries the same number of passengers as the entire New York City subway system in a day (and that if you choose wrong out of the 200 exits at Shinjuku station you may be a half-mile away from your destination.)

The author explains little details of everyday life that Westerners wonder about. Like why people wear face masks, or cover their hands with their mouths when they laugh, and answers the question “OMG why are there things that look like swastikas on this temple?!” There are nice illustrations and explanations of practical stuff that is useful for tourists, like photographs of all the parts of a temple and what they are. In general the book is heavy on photographs and nicely laid out.


Despite my severe reservations about some of the broad claims about language in A Geek in Japan that I will relate later, it has some fun practical points. For example if someone uses the word “chotto“, despite the dictionary definition of “a little,” they’re trying to tell you “no.”

Of course the otaku stuff is in here. And because we don’t all come to our interest in Japan from anime and manga, this will be useful for some people. There are definitions of concepts like moe and lolita and whole chapters about the development of anime, manga, and TV and movies. Because the book was published in 2010, the popular culture sections may be a bit out of date. But much of it is history and many of the musical groups listed are still hugely popular, so they’re still relevant.

While you can certainly find all of this information elsewhere, it’s usually not all in the same book. And some of the details he relates go beyond the typical explanations.

When Garcia covers iconic cute animals he doesn’t stick to the usual tanuki statue and waving cat. He mentions the sunfish, one of the many random animals Americans may not realize are popular in Japan. When he tells you that you can’t visit the Ichiriki ocha-ya made famous by Memoirs of a Geisha, he points you to the Starbucks next door when you’re likely to see the geisha coming and going.

When he talks about falling sales of manga, he describes how in the 90s, you’d usually see ten people in a train car reading manga, but now you’ll see twenty on their phones, three on their hand-held game console and one reading manga.

He tells you how to order your sake at the temperature you want, and says “If you pull out the words atsukan or nurukan in a shabby restaurant full of old people, you’ll be a big success!” Fun details like this make it clear that he’s lived this life and isn’t just reporting it second-hand.

Reasonable people could probably argue interestingly for hours about whether some of what’s in A Geek in Japan is a recitation of stereotypes. It’s hard to avoid stereotypes when trying to explain the difference between cultures. But I think you could say that they are actually valuable to know. For example, the more you know about Japan, the more you realize that there is a lot more divorce than you’d imagine from the stereotype. But the family life he describes of the mother obsessed with the children’s schooling and the father who doesn’t get home from work till midnight is probably what the Japanese themselves see as the typical family. That’s a useful thing to know even if real life will often deviate from expectations.

The book concludes with a few chapters about travel, highlighting well-known places in Tokyo and his offbeat favorites, as well as what he considers essential places to visit elsewhere in country. The unique (and best) part of this section has to be item #1 on his list of General Advice For Travelers: “Don’t Worry.”

His suggestions on where to visit in Tokyo are a little heavily weighted to the otaku areas (no surprise), but on the whole it’s a decent travel guide. I even came away with a couple of ideas for places to go myself, which I didn’t expect. The info about technology (banks, phone, internet access, etc) is out of date, but some of that is changing so fast right now that any printed book, even a brand new one, is going to be behind the times.



While it’s encyclopedic, A Geek in Japan is written in the voice of one person. That makes it more enjoyable to read, but also means that there is no counterbalancing influence when he goes off the rails. There are two big problems in my opinion: most of what he says about language, and (often connected) the pronouncements he makes about “how Japanese people think” and “Japanese minds.”

You should be immediately suspicious when anyone makes reference to “untranslatable” words or concepts. You’ll notice that such a statement is always followed by translations. Which should make you wonder about the validity of the reasoning, don’t you think? He does this early on in the book (page 6) so at least you know from the start to have your guard up whenever he turns to the topic of language.

Take the sidebar on page 39 where he points out that the kanji for “husband” consists of the radicals “main” and “person” and the one for “wife” is made up of “house” and “inside” and implies that this is a reflection of attitudes about gender that “remain strong in the Japanese mind.” Yes, women’s status isn’t the same as it is in other countries. And there’s no doubt a historical explanation about gender relations that explains why those words are what they are. But you’d need to write a whole psycholinguistics dissertation to prove that writing the words that way still influences people’s thinking as opposed to being merely a historical relic. So without the footnoted references to any such research, you should take this kind of connection with a pillar of salt.

Such claims about language often dovetail with his other type of dubious pronouncement, as on page 13 where he claims that the kanji writing system “causes the Japanese to think differently from us” and that “their minds work on the basis of images.”

It’s too bad an editor didn’t pull back on the reins here. Yes, Japanese culture is different. The habitual ways of approaching problems, interacting with others, etc, which have developed over a long history, are different. But human minds are human minds just as human beings are all equally human beings. To suggest that Japanese minds are different in some fundamental way is a slippery slope.

So be aware that you’ll fairly often run into such pronouncements, not all of which have to do with language. For example, the claim that because of the influence of Zen, “those who have met a Japanese person will agree that almost all are calm and patient people.” Again, culture may dictate that people behave this way on the surface, but I have no doubt that every Japanese person you meet is the same mess of emotions underneath as the rest of us. As for the claim that all Japanese people “love work above everything else” (page 65), you can judge how likely that is for yourself.



While I think the two problems above are pretty serious ones, I’m also sure that any level-headed person can see through them. So you’re capable of bringing some critical thinking to a book and still enjoying it and learning from it.

A Geek in Japan covers an unusual, maybe unique combination of many different basic things about Japan in a fun way. There a couple of gaps as far as subject matter, from my point of view. If it were my brain being dumped into a book like this, there’d be a lot more about food. He makes good observations about how central food is to the culture – that Japanese travel guides basically look like a catalog of restaurants and that there are food shows where people do almost nothing but talk about eating food. But if it’s that important, shouldn’t there be more than a couple of pages devoted to the subject? There’s also is little or nothing about folklore, despite how important it is to manga and anime, which he covers at some length.

If you already have some expertise in a Japanese subject, you’ll no doubt find similar things here and there that you think he’s missed or is wrong about. But honestly in that case this book isn’t meant for you. It’s for the beginner to maybe intermediate level Japan-obsessive. If you’re in the process of learning about Japan, you will eat this up. Don’t take everything he says as gospel, but it’s a good starting point for a whole lot of stuff you’re going to want to know if you want to go to Japan someday.

This book would also be a great gift for someone who was going to Japan not as their own choice – say, in the military or following a spouse for a job – and had no previous interest in culture. Along with a lot of useful information and context, it also debunks common myths like “geisha are prostitutes.” Probably not something Tofugu readers need to be told, but still a common association in most people’s minds.

If you’ve been to Japan or are living/have lived in Japan, this book won’t offer you much. But if you’re new to Japan knowledge this book will help you a good deal. Just be sure to cross reference it with other sources some day down the line.

Buy: Amazon


Rating: 7/10


Seria: Japan’s Best 100 Yen Shop

100 yen shops, aka 100円ショップ (hyaku en shoppu) or 百均 (hyakkin), are a type of discount store that sells a wide range of products for only 100 yen (tax excluded). 100 yen is roughly one US or Canadian dollar. I know that there are dollar shops in North America too, but I personally think that the variety and quality of the products are much better in Japan. The top three are Daiso, Seria and Cando. Today I am going to introduce you to my favorite one – SERIA!

seria 100 yen shop entrance

First of all, let me briefly talk about the company. Seria Co., Ltd is a hyakkin corporation whose headquarter is located in Ogaki city in Gifu prefecture. Actually, it’s a big company with stock listed on the JASDAQ stock exchange and overs 1000 shops nationwide. But since the headquarter is in Gifu, most shops are in Chubu area. The company was founded in 1985, the same year I was born.

Seria means “serious” in Italian. They are so serious that they promise to seriously pursue products that move customers’ hearts and decorate and color their daily lives through and through. Whoa!

Now let’s see how serious they are, and look at all of their products aisle by aisle. How much can you get for only 100 yen? More than you think.

Seria 100 yen shop dishes

Seria 100 yen shop casserole dishes on a shelf

The design of most  of the dishes are simple. The mini casserole dishes were coated with nonstick coating (so you won’t need to put oil or butter in it).

They also have pretty Polish style dishes, which I thought I’d taken the photo but I didn’t. I’m sorry. You can kind of see one of the Polish style bowl on the right side of the top third shelf…yes, that blue one! Cute, deshou? If you can’t find it, then click here and you’ll see pics of those dishes posted on Twitter.

Seria 100 yen shop mugs

I didn’t find anything really special in their mug section. But at least all the handles are right side up (I once bought a white mug with an upside down handle from another 100 yen store once). Actually, the rotation of 100 yen shop products is pretty fast. You may find something cute when you visit there like this, but the next time you go it may be gone. Grab things you like while you can!

Seria 100 yen shop jars

I was surprised by the variety of jars. Serving dishes, salads, or deserts in jars (especially in mason jars) is getting popular in Japan. I guess they are seriously trying to meet the demand.

Seria 100 yen shop soy sauce holders

Seria doesn’t only track on trends. They also have a lot of traditional products too. Here are a lot of choices of soy sauce jars (aka soy sauce cruets).

Seria 100 yen shop chopsticks

Seria 100 yen shop chopsticks for kids

They offer chopsticks for both adults and children. The adult ones were very Japanesey whereas ones for children were really cute. You can’t really tell from the picture, but Little Red Riding Hood or Pinocchio or other cute characters are on the top edge of some chopsticks. There were also practice chopsticks or tools to convert normal chopsticks into a practice pair.

Seria 100 yen shop bento stuff

Oh, and we can’t skip this part in the kitchen section – bento boxes! You know how Japanese people into arrange foods into art called “deko-ben,” right? Well, of course serious Seria has a ton of goods to meet this demand.

Seria 100 yen shop bento decorations

Picks, small sauce containers, aluminum cups with designs on them, and more! Everything you need to turn the food in your bento into a work of art.

Seria 100 yen shop bento boxes and molds

Of course you need a bento as stylish and eye-catching as the art you put in it, right? Seria has you covered here too.

Seria 100 yen shop bento clips

But wait. There’s more! Decoration pens and stamp cutters to create cute faces in flat foods.

Seria 100 yen shop bento creation goods

Don’t jump ship just yet. There’s more bento madness to be seen. These molds let you bake all kinds of petite desserts using pancake mix and your microwave. Piece of cake!

Seria 100 yen shop cloths and placemats

Now that we have all our bento decoration supplies, we need to think about decorating the home. There are also many cute coasters and place mats to make your meal more enjoyable.

Seria 100 yen shop mt fuji coaster

Here is my favorite: Mt.Fuji coasters. It’s so kawaii that I bought more than a few.

Seria 100 yen shop aisle

Okay, I guess you’ve seen enough to learn how serious Seria is about kitchen goods. What else?

Seria 100 yen shop fans

Folding fans! You gotta keep cool in summer and look good doing it.

Seria 100 yen shop windchimes

Of course, summertime in Japan means wind chimes. If you don’t hear cicadas and wind chimes, it’s just not summer.

Seria 100 yen shop tenugui

Whoa! You’re sweating a lot. Better grab some of these tenugui to dry yourself off. (You know Tofugu has tenugui too, right?)

Seria 100 yen shop gardening tools

Now that you’re set to handle the heat, get outside and use your green thumb. There are all kinds of gardening tools available for just 100 yen each. What, you thought I’d let you stay inside and watch anime all summer?

Seria 100 yen shop cleaning supplies

When your house is a god awful mess, head to this section to clean it up. Or sell your house. Your choice.

Seria 100 yen shop hair accessories

I’ve always thought your hair was so pretty. Pretty hair deserves pretty hair accessories, don’t you think? Which one is your favorite?

Seria 100 yen shop socks

Japan is a sock loving culture. So Japanese socks are the best around. Because you take off your shoes when going indoors, you’ll be seeing a lot of your socks. But you don’t have to spend a lot to make your feet look nice.

Seria 100 yen shop party favors

Party time! You can get all kinds of games and costumes for cheap. You could be a frog, a ninja, a kappa, or a chicken. Kappa hat? I’d buy that for a dollar! (which is roughly equivalent to 100 yen, mind you.)

There are a lot more products Seria has to offer. Most of them are really neat and cute. If I continue listing things like I’ve been doing, this travel post would be too long to read. So, lastly, I want to introduce Seria’s specialty: handcraft goods! They even have some directions for making crafts using their products. You can find these “recipes” on Seria’s website.

Seria 100 yen shop craft scissors

As you may know, many 100 yen or dollar stores have products priced higher than a dollar. Unlike other stores, however, Seria is so serious that they literally sell all their products for 100 yen each. You can even see a glue gun is sold for 100 yen in the photo. That’s crazy!

Seria 100 yen shop fake food

おいしそう! But you can’t eat them. These are all for handcrafts. All these little sweets are for decorating your smartphone cover or whatever things you want to bedazzle.

Seria 100 yen shop flowers

What are these? Piercings? No, they are curtain clips, which some say are the earrings of the living room. Actually, no one says that.

There are a lot more things to color your days in this serious Seria. Their products are not only useful but also really stylish. By now, you can probably understand why this place is my favorite 100 yen shop. If you want to indulge in your secret shopping mania, this is the safest place to do it. Fill your life with possessions without losing too much money!

Seria 100 Yen Shop Rating

  • Uniqueness: 4/10 – There are many 100 yen shops in Japan and Seria is everywhere, so I suppose it’s not that unique. Having said that, this is the most stylish 100 yen shop, so I rated it a 4.
  • Accessibility: 7/10 – There are a lot of Serias in Japan. Some are located in very convenient places, whereas others are quite far from train stations. For example, this specific one I visited is at 2 Chome-4-2 Abemokuzaidanchi, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, and you have to walk 2km (25 mins) from Sakurai station of JR or Kintetsu line. It really depends and all the shops are pretty much the same, so I rated it a 7. You can check all the locations of the shop here.
  • Seriousness: 10/10 – They are so serious to color customers’ days. There are tons of neat products. They also provide ideas for using their products on their website, and I think it is really kind. Thus, I rated it a 10.
  • Overall: 8/10 – This is one of places I always stop by when I come back to Japan. I definitely recommend you check it out too. You may find cool souvenirs and/or some really cute items to make your life more enjoyable. I rated it an 8.


Rating: 8/10

Seria 100 Yen Shop Access

Again, Seria is all over Japan. Check out the Seria website if you want to find one near you:

If you really want to visit the one I visited in this post:


The 3 Anime You Should Watch This Season: Summer 2015

Looks like it’s time to beat the summer heat by sippin’ some Chu-Hi and watchin’ some anime. Last season was pretty decent, but which shows are worth watching this season? Well, Rich and I have some ideas for you. We watched most of the new shows that came out this summer and are happy to share with you our top picks. Hopefully all of our hard work pays off and helps you find your new favorite show. Onward!


Before starting the season, DBS was pretty much the only one I had some sort of expectation for. And that expectation was that it’d be better than DBGT. And it was. Hooray. But the season did offer up some additional interests. I dunno if I’ll see any of them all the way through, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen so far. Let’s get into my picks.

Dragon Ball Super


I’m sure many of you are at least somewhat familiar with Dragon Ball. Super is the latest iteration of it, taking place about 6 months after the defeat of Majin Buu. The world is at peace, and the Dragon Balls were used to make everyone forget about all the nonsense that happened. Vegeta is a family man, Goku is a farmer, and Gohan is a boring student. Life is simple and quaint. But there is a looming darkness in the universe that looks to be coming closer and closer to our heroes.

Dragon Ball Z was one of the first anime I ever really got into so this show holds a lot of nostalgia value for me, especially after the relative disappointment of GT. I even included it in my Personal Top 10 Anime list. The first couple episodes here are pretty slow and lacking action. But it’s kind of nice to just get a glimpse into the everyday humdrum life of the characters we know and love. It looks like the action is going to start to ramp up soon though, so I’m looking forward to that.

If you were never into Dragon Ball that much, this series probably won’t change your mind. But it’s a nice treat for people who are already fans of the series.

Rokka no Yuusha


The Demon God has arisen and it’s up to six chosen heroes to defeat him. Legend tells of how the six are market by the Saint of the Single Flower and then it is up to these heroes to defeat the god until the process starts all over again. Only problem is that the chosen heroes have no way of finding the others, so they gotta run around and group up before finally traveling west to go kick the Demon God in his behind.

I really like the look of this anime. The style and the colors and the music is all really well done and pleasant. It very much reminds me of a Tales game. It might have something to do with the main character looking like Luke from Tales of the Abyss. But no matter what it’s a good thing. The show is exciting, funny, and interesting and probably the one I’m looking forward to the most this season. The story might be a little shallow, but the characters and the setting make it compelling.



In the world of Charlotte, some people are blessed with special abilities. Our main dude can take over another’s body for five seconds, but loses all control of his own during that time. So far he’s used it to cheat in school, pick up babes, and get revenge on some jerks. Nothing special. Then one day he is taken away to a special school for kids with abilities so it can be made sure they don’t cause any harm to themselves or others.

This show was a surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting it to be so entertaining and funny. All of the powers displayed by the characters so far have some amusing drawback and it was really funny to see how the main character made creative use of his. I’m not sure what to expect from the story. This is another one of those shows where the characters really make the show. The main character is fun to watch, and I just hope that the show can keep up the momentum. Oh, and also – the music is really good. As you might be able to tell from that PV up there.


Japan jam-packs its summer with movies, anime and drama. And the anime summer 2015 season is no different. This season, Dragon Ball fans, both old and young, can join together and bask in the glory of the new series, Dragon Ball Super. I would have made it one of my picks, but the series looks to continue where Z left off; both Dragon Ball fans and haters know what to expect. This season also ushers in the return of series like Wangaria, Durarara, Non Non Biyori, Gatchaman Crowds and Junjou Romantica. Meanwhile Yowamushi Pedal, Haikyu, and Ghost in the Shell are sure to fill air conditioned movie theaters. With so much to choose from, here are my three picks for this stacked anime season!

Non Non Biyori Repeat


“Starting this spring I’ll be my village’s one and only bright, shiny ichinensei.” And so starts Non Non Biyori Repeat; the sequel to Non Non Biyori, a cute, slice of life comedy akin to Azumanga Daioh.

In Non Non Biyori Repeat, a handful of students from a small town Japanese elementary school have innocent and silly life experiences. Don’t expect a heavy plot or deep character development. Biyori Repeat offers a light relaxing experience, perfect for those hot and humid summer days.

I’m enjoying this series because the characters remind me of my kindergarten and elementary school students. Their logic and innocent reactions have an authentic flavor. That being said, Non Non Biyori Repeat will be too light, too cute, and too uneventful for many viewers. But fans of light-hearted affair like Azumanga Daioh and K-On! should enjoy this easygoing comedy.

Ushio and Tora


After an original manga run from 1990 to 1996, Ushio and Tora’s anime has been a long time coming. Although an OVA came out in the early 1990s, the ten episode run barely scratched the series’s surface. Perhaps fans owe Japan’s current yo-kai boom for Ushio and Tora’s revival.

When junior high school student Ushio mistakenly releases Tora, a legendary demon put to rest by his ancestors, all sorts of spirits and monsters start showing up. To protect his family, friends and put an end to the yokai infused madness, Ushio is forced to team with the finicky, uncooperative demon. Will the unlikely pair cooperate and save the world or kill each other in the process?

Ushio and Tora stays close to the source material, both in visual style and themes. The fun, yokai filled adventures have enough battles and laughs to please both longtime fans and newcomers alike. If you like Yu Yu Hakusho and Kikkaishi, you should give this action-packed mishmash of yokai and school life a look.



Gangsta takes me back to a time when anime first debuted on adult swim. The series would fit in right alongside Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Outlaw Star. Gangsta’s adult-themed world has all the gritty, stylized stuff that goes over well in the West.

Overwhelmed by the growing power of gangs and drug cartels, local police hire street smart tough guys, “The Handymen” Nic and Worick, to help take care of the dirty work. The two jump headfirst into the dangerous world without hesitation and continue to find excuses to take on the baddies throughout the series.

With edgy characters, a European-flavored setting and its share of mystery, sex, and action, I found Gangsta the most intriguing series of the summer season. Whether Gangsta will embrace a focused narrative and develop deep characters or continue a simple onslaught of cool violent confrontations, I’ll be watching.

Anime Summer 2015 Parting Thoughts


Rich: Alongside these picks, I look forward to continuing my holdovers from last season, My Love Story and Shogeki no Soma. For those looking for a satisfying single-serve anime experience, look no further than Little Witch Academia: Mahou Shikake no Parade. The gorgeous animation, charming characters, and fantastic world compliment this sweet, innocent, yet thrilling roller-coaster ride of an adventure. In under an hour, Little Which Academia offers a more well rounded, rich narrative than some series twelve times the length. Hope you find something cool to keep you cool during this summer’s heat… unless you live below the equator and it’s winter – then, by all means stay warm!

John: Just an aside, Gangsta was nearly edged out of my top 3 by Charlotte. I think Gangsta looks pretty promising as well. That aside – I’m guessing that eventually the nostalgia value will wear off with DBS, and surprisingly I think I’m going to have to say Charlotte is my top pick this season. It looks good, sounds good, and keeps me chuckling. Hopefully the rest of the season doesn’t let me down!

So what were your top picks for the anime summer 2015 season? Any favorites from last season? Let us know in the comments!


PLATAKU – The Takara Tomy Plarail Cafe Full of Trains

Japan is well known for its themed cafes. Cat cafes have become common in recent years. Now there are even goat cafes and owl cafes you can visit in Japan. But the cafe I want to talk about today isn’t animal themed. It’s toy themed. Toy train themed, to be specific. Takara Tomy Plarail toy train themed to be super specific.

Toy trains may be niche hobby. And you a very specific brand of Japanese toy train is even more niche. But Takara Tomy Plarail has a a very loyal following. There’s a Plarail Expo that’s been held in Tokyo for over ten years. There’s Plarail clothing and school items. 72% of Japanese children own Plarail toys (that number is according to Takara Tomy itself, so take it with a grain of salt).

So it makes sense there would be a cafe. You don’t sell toy trains for over 55 years and not get a themed cafe for your products. In fact you do. And I went to it.

takara tomy plarail cafe storefront

“What separated Plarail from other toy trains?” you may ask. Good question. For one thing, Plarail is plastic, making it very kid friendly. No stabby metal pieces here. Also none of the pieces are compatible with other trains sets. So if you’re a Plarail kid, you’re PlaRail all the way. Get a tattoo. Plarail 4 Life. By the way, Plarail is pronounced as “play rail” in English, but in Japanese we say “プラレール.”

Anyway, time to go inside the Plarail Cafe.

takara tomy plarail cafe tower of trains

Once inside you’ll notice this awesome train tower the cafe has built for your enjoyment. You’re meant to watch the trains as you eat your snacks and drink your drinks. So please do so when you come here.

takara tomy plarail cafe keihan

On the wall is a series of photos of various Plarail models. Apparently they recreated every station on the KEIHAN line in Plarail! That’s pretty impressive. It would have been nice to actually see these stations rather than just photos. But that would require a bigger cafe, I think.

takara tomy plarail cafe trains for sale

takara tomy plarail cafe accessories for sale

What would a Plarail Cafe be without Plarail items to buy? If you’re a newbie, you can start your collection. If you’re already big into Plarail, you can buy more pieces to fortify your massive collection. Just make sure to hide it from your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/mom/dad/anyone that cares about you because they’ll be mad you bought more Plarail. You promised after you finished recreating the landscape from Snowpiercer you’d be done!

takara tomy plarail cafe play area mother and child playing

Once you’ve purchased unreasonable amounts of Plarail accessories, it’s time to play! There’s a play area in the back. There may only be children in this area, but that shouldn’t stop you from plopping down and playing with your trains. Right? Right?!

takara tomy plarail cafe shoes off

But, don’t forget to take off your shoes. The child that took of these shoes also took off his socks. But I don’t think that’s necessary. Or sanitary.

Hey look, he’s got Anpanman socks!

takara tomy plarail cafe cake menu

Time to order some train-themed food. They had sushi and all kinds of various dishes. But you can get that anywhere. You can’t come to the Plarail Cafe and not get the shinkansen shaped cake. There’s three kinds to choose from!

takara tomy plarail cafe video menu

After you order, you can use this laminated piece of paper to watch Plarail movies on your phone or tablet. Just use the QR codes to bring up the various YouTube videos. Or you can just look over at the giant Plarail tower right next to you. You are in the Plarail Cafe after all.

takara tomy plarail cafe cake

Yay! My shinkansen cake finally arrived at my table. To be honest, I expected an overly sweet, artificial tasting cake, but I was wrong. It had just the right sweetness, fluffiness, and a beautifully creamy presence throughout. I really liked it. Next time I’m gonna try the E5-Hayabusa and Dr. Yellow cakes.

Plarail Cafe Rating

  • Uniqueness: 9/10 – I know that there are a few train cafés, but they are really quite rare, so I rated it as a 9.
  • Taste: 8/10 – The cake was really good. I’m not sure about their other food, but the cake certainly made my visit, so I gave it an 8.
  • Accessibility: 8/10 – It’s a 5-minute walk from Keisei Takasago station.
  • Overall: 7/10 – I’d like to go back to try another Shinkansen cake. It’s probably a good idea to take somebody who has never been there either. Unfortunately, however, I am not a fan of Plarail, so I couldn’t rate higher than 7. If you like Plarail or trains, you’ll likely really enjoy your time here.


Rating: 7/10

Plarail Cafe Access

  • Address: 3-8-16 Takasago, Katsushika-ku, Tōkyō-to, Japan
  • Phone: 03-6322-1679
  • Open: 10:00~19:00
  • Closed: Wednesday


Takara Tomy, 1