Helping you live your life on JET


JET Program Survival Resources

While researching the Tofugu JET Guide, I came across a wealth of information. Blogs, websites, wikis, forums, the list goes on. So many people are writing so much about life in Japan and on JET.

So it’s only right to share the resources I was most impressed with. These are sites I bookmarked and kept coming back to in my research. The best of the best.

Naturally, no one site contains all the information pertinent to everyone ever. So it’s good to look through the links below and see what uniqueness each has to offer. I’ve done my best to highlight what makes each one special.

Hopefully this page can be a resource for JETs looking for answers. Good luck!

Official JET Program Links



This is help from above, so to speak. The official word from the people who sent you to Japan and/or are in charge of you. This advice can feel stiff at first. After all, it’s from the bosses so there is a certain veneer of formality that goes along with this type of writing. Nonetheless, there is a lot of great stuff in here. A lot of problems JETs faced are covered in these links and covered well. Read all this stuff before digging into other resources.

The JET Programme

This seems like a no-brainer. But few JETs check through the “official” JET help documents. While CLAIR may give you dry advice or gloss over tough issues, its resources are actually incredibly helpful if you take the time to dig. The General Information Handbook (GIH) alone clears up a lot of concerns held by JETs during their tenure. On top of this, CLAIR offers New JET Guides, ALT Handbooks, Teaching Materials, and Returners’ Guides. Consider these resources the “Read Before Posting” guidelines of the JET Program. Clean and official, but very helpful.


Visit: The Official JET Program Website


AJET (The Association for JET) is an official/unofficial organization. It’s officially the unofficial support network for all JETs in Japan. Being tied to CLAIR but not ruled by it means their help is down to earth and high quality. Their teaching materials are top-notch, as are their guides to life and work in Japan. You could get all the help you need from AJET and be just fine.


Visit: The AJET Resource Page

CLAIR’s Information for Foreigners in Japan

This a site/directory created by CLAIR for foreigners living in Japan. It covers everything from marriage to taxes to garbage to job searching. If it’s something you have to do in life, this site probably talks about doing it in Japan. What I find strange is that this is made by CLAIR, the same organization which oversees JET. Why is this site not shared with JETs? Sure, it’s not JET-specific. But all JETs live in Japan and could benefit from this site. Whatever the reason, you have the link now. Give the site a look and I’m sure you’ll find a lot of useful information.


Visit: Multilingual Living Information

Shimane PAs

The Prefectural Advisors of Shimane-ken did a great job setting up a resource blog for their JETs. Though many things are Shimane-specific, any JET or expat in Japan should benefit from 70% of everything here. The best part is, it’s still active. So hopefully there’s more goodness to come.


Visit: Help from Shimane PAs

Ibaraki PAs

The PAs of Ibaraki have started a nice website for JETs in their prefecture. Right now there’s not much in the way of resources, but they do have an interesting feature: Ask Ibaraki JET PAs. ALTs ask questions about their job and the PAs give honest and helpful feedback. It seems to be updated rather frequently so hopefully it continues. In a year it could make for a treasure trove of Dear Abby style advice for ALTs.


Visit: Help from Ibaraki PAs

By JETs, For JETs


Almost every prefecture in Japan has JET Participant-created website meant to aid the community. Some of the resources on these pages will only apply to people living in or visiting that specific prefecture. But the majority of articles, guides, and clickables will help any JET anywhere.

If your prefecture’s website doesn’t offer the answers you’re looking for, or you’d just like a second opinion, click some of the links below. You’ll be surprised how much advice and wisdom you’ll pick up from these sites.

The JET Coaster

This site is unique to this list in that it is unofficial. It’s curated by a group of former JETs who give awesome JET advice to newcomers and those currently on the program. It’s relatively new, but already has a good deal of solid content. This site is often updated, giving it a big advantage over those that are helpful, though stagnant.


Visit: The JET Coaster

Kumamoto JET

Definitely one of the best. Consistently updated. High quality content. I could go on.

KumamotoJET is featured prominently in Tofugu’s Guide to Lesson Planning, and it’s no slouch when it comes to the rest of JET life. Their Tax Guide alone is worth the visit. It’s only applicable to U.S. residents, but it’s incredibly detailed. If you’re a JET from the U.S., check it out for sure.


Visit: Kumamoto JET

Kyoto JETs

Kyoto JETs has a great collection of information. It will take some crawling but its worth the effort. The standouts are the Disaster Preparedness section and the Tax Guide. Most sites don’t even address disaster (surprisingly), so that alone is worth a click.


Visit: Kyoto JETs

JET Sendai

This is one of my favorites (which is why it’s near the top). JET Sendai covers a lot of ground and their explanations of procedures untangle complicated situations. Short, sweet, and to the point. If you need help in a hurry, head to JET Sendai. ‘Nuff said.


Visit: Sendai JET

Hyogo AJET

The website is rather bare bones in terms of design but it has a ton of useful content. It doesn’t cover every aspect of JET life. But what it does cover is unique and useful. More obscure and offbeat topics are covered here. Definitely recommended.


Visit: Hyogo JET

Akita JET

Don’t let the plain presentation fool you. The Akita JET wiki has a lot to offer. Though some entries are a little shallow, the Akita wiki covers a lot. If you’re facing a strange or abstract situation, visit this site. The answer just might be there.


Visit: Akita JET

Saga JET

The Saga JET Programme site is pretty nice. Cute layout. Good amount of info. It takes some digging to find the good stuff though. Most of the advice ends up being Saga-specific. So you may click on a link thinking, “Wow! I really need to know this,” only to find the advice contained applies only to people living in Saga. Nevertheless, keep poking around. There are a lot of gems in here that will apply to anyone living in Japan.


Visit: Saga JET

Gunma JET

Honestly, I just have fun on this site. Maybe it’s the layout. The colors. I don’t know. All the resources are very complete and personal. One of my favs. It includes a unique furikomi guide. You’ll probably be taught how to use this by your supervisor, but it’s great in case you forget or are never taught.


Visit: Gunma JET

Yamaguchi AJET

This is a very clean and navigable site. It has very complete resources for incoming and outgoing JETs. Not as much for life in between, unless you live in Yamaguchi. They have intensely detailed descriptions of every city in the prefecture. If you’re placed in Yamaguchi, it’s an excellent resource. If not, maybe it might be worth visiting. Going on a trip with such a detailed guide can make for a great experience.


Visit: Yamaguchi AJET

Okinawa JET

The Okinawa JET website covers most aspects of JET life. Their guides and articles are mid-size, which can be a good thing. If you’re overwhelmed by comprehensive explanations elsewhere, it’s helpful to read shorter versions of the same information.

Also, OkiJET has an Island Guide. With beautiful beaches and resorts, chances are you’ll want to head down Okinawa way at least once. The Island Guide will give you the resident’s perspective not found in most travel guides.


Visit: OkiJET

Mie JETs

Mie JETs is a little tough to navigate at first, but the information is worth the effort. It’s set up like a wiki but isn’t called one. A wiki by any other name is still a wiki. Check here if you can’t find answers anywhere else.


Visit: Mie JETs

Oita JETs

OitaJET is relatively new, but still sports a lot of content. Hopefully new things will continue to be added. Until then, enjoy the clean layout and unique features.


Visit: Oita JETs

Kagoshima JET

The PAs of Kagoshima have created some original and helpful content. A lot of the common “Guides for Living” include abstract questions to aid in development. It’s nice to see a personal touch once in a while.


Visit: Kagoshima JET


Maybe the cutest logo of all Prefectural sites. Like others in this list, OkaJET offers its take on JET life. It also chimes in on regional issues like rainy season survival which you are likely to experience anywhere in Japan.


Visit: OkaJET

Toyama JETs

Though the site is very pretty, I was put off by navigation. But I pushed through and found some good content. The medical information was the most helpful, in my opinion.


Visit: Toyama JETs

Fukuoka JET

Fukuoka JET’s resources are hit or miss. Some are detailed and helpful. Others not so much. Poke around the site and see what you can find. The School Calendar Kanji guide was pretty unique and could be helpful to ALTs wanting to stay in the loop at their schools.


Visit: Fukuoka JET

Ishikawa JET Wiki

Very complete and has the advantage of being a wiki. Unfortunately it’s a wikia wiki, so be prepared for ads, ads, ads! The experience is slow, but content might be worth it.


Visit: The Ishikawa JET Wiki


Tokushima has a pretty little site. Still sparse on info, but what it does have fairly complete and easy to find. Thumbs up!


Visit: TokushimaJET

Ehime AJET

Ehime AJET is a little on the small side, but has some hidden gems. It’s pop culture events guide is unique as well as the shipping guide. Good stuff for vegetarians. Worth a look.


Visit: Ehime AJET


Shizuoka AJET (or Shizajet) is still getting started. Hopefully it will expand with time. I did really like their Top 5 Lists, which are a good collection of advice and ideas for ALTs in digestible form. More stuff like this please, Shizajet!


Top 5 Lists

Visit: ShizaJET


The Niigata JET site isn’t too different from those listed above. It has a nice little blog that’s worth clicking through for personal insights. I thought their section on culture shock had some unique things to say.


Visit: NiigataJET



Photo by kinpi3

If you didn’t get enough survival help from your fellow JETs above, here are some non-JET related links to take care of any loose ends you’re still fighting with. Really, the first link in this list is the jam. Keep reading and see what I mean.

Surviving in Japan

No joke, this site is what inspired this list. All the other sites listed are very helpful, but this one is extremely, overwhelmingly helpful. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since 2013. Fortunately the articles left over are pure gold. This is all the nitty gritty stuff most guides don’t bother to cover.

Which toothpastes have fluoride? Where to find foods from home? What kinds of foundation match which non-Japanese skin colors?

I really can’t say enough good things about this site. Check it out and be amazed.

Visit: Surviving in Japan

Just Landed

This is an online community for expats in every country. The topics covered are fairly comprehensive, but not as deep as really good sites. Check here if you’ve checked everywhere else. You might find some answers or links you’re looking for.

Visit: Just Landed

Japan Post Communication Guide

This is a chart from the Japanese post office that helps foreigners use the Japanese post office. Makes a good language study tool.

Visit: The Japanese Post Office

Hyperdia & Jorudan

These are both Japanese train time calculators. I included them for completeness’ sake, but Google Maps does the same task better. Use these if you have an aversion to Google Maps.

Visit: Hyperidia

Visit: Jorudan

Japanese Toll Calculator Guide

Road trippin’ in Japan? Calculate the tolls you’ll have to pay on your cross country tour. Don’t forget the snacks! Seriously. Don’t forget the snacks.

Visit: Japan Toll Calculator

Import Foods


Food is one of the things you’ll miss most while on JET. Sometimes a tough bout of culture shock can be cured with a bit of cheese or some sour patch kids. Thankfully there are some websites that offer import and foreign foods delivered straight to your door.

The Flying Pig

This is probably the most famous resource. The Flying Pig delivers Costco items. Considering there aren’t many Costco locations in Japan and they may be hard to get to for most JETs, this is a big deal. The Flying Pig offers comforts of home as often as you like.

Visit: The Flying Pig

Foreign Buyers’ Club

The Foreign Buyers’ Club goes beyond Costco to just about everywhere else. Almost anything you can imagine, they’ve got. Try not to spend your whole paycheck.

Visit: The Foreign Buyers’ Club

The Meat Guy

Pretty self-explanatory. He’s a guy. He sells meat. His prices are pretty reasonable and you can get almost any kind of meat in any size. Even Thanksgiving turkey! Put your burger and bacon cravings to rest once and for all.

Visit: The Meat Guy

Tengu Natural Foods

For whole, natural, and organic foods. Tengu is the best way to eat right in Japan.

Visit: Tengu Natural Foods

Yoyo Market

Yoyo offers items from Costco and a little bit more. If it’s for sale anywhere in Japan, chances are they can get their hands on it.

Visit: Yoyo Market

Legal Help


Photo by Roy Berman

Hopefully you won’t need these links while on JET.

Japanese Law Translations

Unofficial translations of Japanese laws and regulations. If you’re in legal trouble or are simply a law geek, check it out.

Visit: Japanese Law Translations

Japan Legal Support Center

Legal Consultation for foreigners in Japan. If you need a lawyer while on JET bookmark this site. Actually, bookmark it no matter what. You never know.

Visit: Legal Help for Foreigners in Japan

Support for Various Groups


If you need help or support for certain issues on JET, these sites and organizations should help you out.


Stonewall Japan is a branch of AJET that offers support for the LGBTQ community in Japan. They offer groups, events, resources, community outreach, and more!

Visit: Stonewall Japan


Figuring out what you can and can’t eat as a vegetarian in Japan is a challenge. Thankfully this extensive guide distinguishes which Japanese dishes are vegetarian. There’s even a nice restaurant guide at the bottom.

Visit: The Neverending Voyage


“Is it Vegan?” offers solutions, recipes, and guides to help vegans find and make food while on JET.

Visit: Is it Vegan?

Japan Vegan gives survival tips and, most importantly, vegan friendly restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Visit: Japan Vegan

People with Celiac Disease

Avoiding gluten is a serious matter for those with celiac. Thankfully, Gluten Free in Japan brings relief and suggestions for navigating the Japanese culinary landscape with gluten-avoidance in mind.

Visit: Gluten Free in Japan

More JET Program Survival Resources?


Photo by m-louis

JET life outside of school can be a challenge, sometimes more so than the ALT job itself. Working out what to do and how to do it takes years. Hopefully these resources help a little and put you on a path of figuring out life in Japan.

If you have any suggestions for resources I may have missed, leave them in the comments below.

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.

Read: The Tofugu JET Program Guide

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Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum

Ramen. Although originally a Chinese import, it’s now a huge obsession in Japan and an icon of Japanese cuisine around the world. Part of the excitement is that so many different kinds and styles have developed. People wait in long lines at renowned shops and travel a long way to experience regional variations.

Now, as much as I’d love to travel to Kyushu just to eat their ramen, I didn’t have to. I just had to go to Yokohama. And at the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, I not only got my soup, but a cool place to eat it in.


The museum spells raumen with a “u” in its name for a retro feel. But the rest of this article is going to render it properly. The museum says it chose its Showa-era theme because 1958 was the birthdate of instant ramen. This is a bit odd, because this is a place where you will find no trace of instant noodles.

The entrance floor may seem a bit unpromising. Some photos of ramen from different places and an OK gift shop of ramen-related merchandise greet you as you enter. Never fear! Head downstairs and you’ll find what you came for: a two-level reproduction of a 1950s shopping street bathed in an eternal twilight.


Wander around the upper level and you’ll find various charming fake storefronts including a post office, a soba restaurant, and a pawnshop.


You’ll also find one shop that’s actually in business where you can buy retro candies and toys.


Okay, okay. You’re hungry. So go downstairs. But be ready to strategize, because there are a lot of choices.


Of course you picked up the brochure (available in English) that tells you what all the shops are and what they offer. Apparently some of them switch out once in a while. But when I was there, there were nine choices. Among them were what was claimed to be the most famous miso ramen in Japan (from Hokkaido) and one made from the recipe of a shop that was swept away in the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami.


The brochure is serious business. It tells you what the broth and noodles are like at each shop. It details how thick the noodles are on a five-point scale and whether they are straight, curly, or wrinkled. It describes how rich the soup is on another five-point scale (“Rich” in ramen lingo seems to mean “fatty,” with the richest soups turning to a solid gelatinized mass if you take the leftovers home and put them in the fridge).

Or you could just pick the shop with the coolest storefront.


If you are indecisive, there’s good news. Some of the shops offer mini-ramen. So you might have room for a bowl at more than one. Also, you may want to decide whether or not to have the authentic experience of waiting in a long line. My friend and I couldn’t figure out what to do and ended up just picking a shop without a line.


The shops use the old fashioned system where you buy a ticket from a machine (seen to the right in the photo above). The machines have different buttons for different choices. The lady was very helpful, if you get confused. And “mini” is the same in English and Japanese, if you need to ask.


This shop served ramen from a shop in Kyushu that has been in business since the 1950s. It was decorated with the mascot Kumamon (who was not around in the 1950s). I swear I didn’t see that when we made our choice. So I suppose I was destined to pick the shop with the cute animal mascot.


But enough with the decor. How was the soup, you say? To be honest, I kind of wished I’d paid more attention to the helpful brochure, because the straight thin noodles turned out to be almost exactly like spaghetti. I grew up eating Italian-American food, and that was not what I had come halfway around the planet to eat. But I can’t blame them for my mistake. The broth and the crunchy garlic sprinkled on top were great, and the atmosphere couldn’t be beat.

There are lots of other things to do in Yokohama, such as the famous Yokohama Chinatown and the Cup Noodle Museum (different than the amazing instant ramen museum Koichi visited, but same company). Both of these choices are suitable if you somehow manage not to eat enough food at the Ramen Museum, not to mention non-noodle related attractions. You might want to plan better than I did and spend the whole day.

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum Rating

  • Uniqueness: 7/10 – Though the website claims the museum to be the first food theme park, there are now lots of similar places in Japan for different foods, and I’ve seen others that are also cute old-time reproductions of street stalls and such. This one is a much bigger production than the others I know of though, so it still gets a high score.
  • Access: 7/10 – Pretty easy to get to from Tokyo via various trains at various speeds and price points.
  • Nostalgia: 9/10 – Even if you weren’t alive in 1950s Japan, the old Coke machine and movie posters have a familiar vibe.
  • Deliciousness: 7/10 – It was definitely good, but to be honest ramen isn’t my favorite Japanese food and I probably didn’t make the wisest choice. Your mileage will probably vary.
  • Overall: 8/10 – Definitely worth a trip if you like ramen and if, like me, you are a sucker for the Showa era and for indoor historic reproductions of Japanese street scenes.


Rating: 8/10

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum Access

If you’re heading straight to the museum when you get into Yokohama, the museum’s website says to transfer at the JR Shin-Yokohama station to the local Yokohama subway. But that gets you literally only two blocks closer to the museum. Not worth the bother. It’s perfectly walkable from the JR station. Take the west exit, go straight out the pedestrian bridge. Then go to your right and down to the street. The maps posted on the street have English on them to guide you the rest of the way.


“Interleaving” To Memorize More Japanese

Chances are, you are using some kind of flashcard system to study Japanese. I don’t know what you use personally, but it doesn’t matter that much. As long as it’s a spaced repetition system (like Anki or Memrise), it’s A-okay in my book.

But, how are you organizing your cards? Are you separating them out into categories, or do you throw them all into one big pile? In this video, I talk about why the latter is a much more effective strategy if you want to make faster and “realer” progress in your Japanese language abilities.

Usually, I think, people try to learn different types of things separately. But this is no good. In Japanese, this could be radicals, kanji, and vocabulary all in separate decks. You will have your “radicals deck” and you will study all the radicals at once. Then you’ll move on to your “kanji deck” and study all the kanji you’ve collected at once. Or if we want to go even more micro, you might study “Japanese greetings” all together but separately. Or “Japanese verbs” all together but separately.

Although this is a nice and organized way to study your Japanese, it’s much better to take all these radicals, kanji, vocabulary, greetings, verbs, adjectives, etc., and mix them together in a single deck. This way you may see a kanji radical come up and then a kanji right after and then an adjective right after that. When you study similar (but different) things together, this is called interleaving, and it’s so much better for your learning progress. To read more about interleaving, Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab, goes into more detail.

Interleaving Japanese


The main items that you will interleave in Japanese are probably going to be your kanji and vocabulary. Depending on how you’re learning Japanese, radicals may be included in there as well (in fact, I highly recommend it!). Maybe you’ll add Japanese sentences in there. Other than that, there’s not much else in Japanese to study via flashcards. These all fit the “different but similar” requirement that we set earlier. You’ll notice there’s no mathematical equations in our Japanese deck. There’s also no English vocabulary words that you’re trying to learn. Just Japanese language related items.

This is important. You want items that have the possibility to be connected with each other. A kanji might come up. Say it’s the kanji 義. Then later on the vocabulary 正義 appears. Oh look at that! It contains the kanji we reviewed earlier. That’s great. It hasn’t been that long, so you can easily make that connection, and your Japanese gets stronger as a whole. The vocabulary word 正義 is stronger, and the kanji 義 is stronger. Your brain makes more connections between memories and it’s easier to recall them both the next time they come up. Because of these connections, you are moving those items towards a “fluency” where you can recall and understand them without having to think, like you would with words in your native language.


There’s another reason why interleaving is important. It prevents you from going into a learner’s version of “highway hypnosis.” This is a term that normally refers to a sort of hypnotic state people get into when driving. This mostly happens on long, straight stretches of road. Your brain turns off, and suddenly you’re fifty miles down the road and you don’t remember how you got here. When you study the same type of item in Japanese, it’s much easier to go into a similar state. You answer questions without really thinking about it. When you are answering questions in this state, you aren’t improving your memory for those items. Not nearly as much. It feels easier, but you don’t want studying to feel easy (usually that means you’re not learning as much). By having to switch from sentence to kanji to vocabulary to radical and then back again, you are forcing your brain to switch gears. This keeps your brain more active and you end up learning more.

Beyond flashcards, you can take interleaving a step further. If you are already interleaving your flashcard study, why not interleave your study methods? For example, you should spend five minutes studying with flashcards. Then when those five minutes are up you open up your textbook and continue to work on your grammar lesson. After another five minutes try doing some Japanese reading. With enough study, you’ll make connections between these different ways of learning, but only if you interleave them in this manner. Words you studied in your flashcards may come up in your reading practice. Or, you may come across some grammar in your reading practice that you happen to be learning in your textbook. Although these connections feel like random coincidences, as long as you’re doing study that’s within your level, you will run into way more connections like this than you’d expect. They’re random… but not all that random. Of course, you have to do plenty of study for this to work. That being said, if you’re not studying that much you probably aren’t making much progress, interleaving or not.

Memorize More Japanese This Month


I’d like to end this article by mentioning something I often have to explain to people who are just beginning WaniKani (our radicals/kanji/vocabulary learning website). In WaniKani, many people don’t like how radicals, kanji and vocabulary get mixed together into a single review pile. But, if you read this article you’ll know exactly why we do it that way. Your reviews become slightly harder, but you end up learning so much more. Plus, it’s ordered and timed so that opportunity for connected items to come up is very, very high. If you learn a new word, you’re for sure going to see the kanji that’s in it in your reviews too. It’s ordering is designed to create as many situations like this as possible. Have you noticed that when you use WaniKani? I bet you will now.

Now I ask you: what can you interleave in your Japanese studies? Try changing your learning methods for the next month and see how much more you’re able to learn. You’ll probably notice an uptick in focus as well, but that’s a whole other topic. Because interleaving is all about tiny, constant progress, you’ll need to make sure that you study a little bit every day, not for five hours once a week (this is no good no matter what your method). Tell me a month later how it goes. Good luck!



We’re Giving Away Genki I, Genki II, and Both Workbooks

Hey there, Japanese learners (or want-to-be Japanese learners). We’re giving away a complete set Genki Japanese textbooks. They’re one of our favorites for Japanese learners!

  • Genki I: An Integrated Course In Elementary Japanese
  • Genki II: An Integrated Course In Elementary Japanese
  • The workbook for both Genki Textbooks.

These Japanese textbooks will get you all the way to the intermediate level of Japanese. They cover grammar, vocabulary, kanji, and even include lessons on Japanese culture and society. They’re just high quality textbooks. Teachers love them. The internet loves them. Students love them. If you’re in the market for a physical textbook, these are the top choice.

And, we’re giving away the whole set. These should keep one very happy winner happy for quite a long time. Textbooks are expensive, too. When you put them all together they hold a $150 value. Much more in certain other parts of the world. Education isn’t cheap, I guess.

Of course, if you win them they’re free for you.

To enter the contest, please visit our Genki contest page.

Good luck! I have a good feeling about you…


The Language Hack Where You Learn 1,000+ Japanese Words This Week

What if I told you that you could learn 1,000+ Japanese words in a week or two? Would you say I’m crazy? Would you say I’ve gone to the dark side? I’d say those things too. But, you really can use this simple Japanese language hack to learn a cool thousand-ish Japanese words in a very short amount of time. I tell you how in this video:

To take advantage of this Japanese language hack, you’ll need to learn katakana. That’s a must. After that, it’s all a matter of time. Probably not that much time at all, considering what you get out of it. Here’s how it works:

Gairaigo and Wasei-Eigo

Admittedly, it would be great if you could learn a thousand originally Japanese words in such a short amount of time. But, gairaigo and wasei-eigo are important and are useful, so it’s not like you’re wasting your time. You’ll have to learn most of these eventually as they are used in the Japanese language. Because they are (usually) English words that have been “Japanese-ified” you can learn them quickly. Many of these words are very close to the original English word, meaning that you’ll be able to recognize them, learn them, and then use them with very little effort. A few examples:

キー (ki-): Key

アルコール (aruko-ru): Alcohol

バイク (baiku): motorcycle

ベビーカー (bebi-ka-): stroller (“baby car”)

カンニング (kanningu): cheating (“cunning”)

パンク (panku): Flat Tire (punc-ture)

レストラン (resutoran): Restaurant

ハッカー (hakka-): Hacker

I tried to include quite a few words that don’t sound like the original English. Even when words are like this, you can still recognize and learn them quickly. For example, パンク (panku) is just short for “(punc)ture” which refers to a flat tire. That’s not a difficult jump to make. カンニング is just “cunning,” and cunning people cheat. A ベビーカー is a “baby car.” A baby car is clearly a stroller. But, many words are pretty close to the original. A キー is a key, アルコール is alcohol, to name a couple.

Learning something that you pretty much already know is way easier than learning something that is abstract (like most of the Japanese language, when you’re starting out). We’re taking advantage of that fact, which will allow you to learn an insane number of Japanese vocabulary words (that aren’t originally Japanese at all). This is a Japanese language hack after all. So you can’t have your mochi and eat it too.

Learning These Words

Japanese Language Hack to learn Japanese vocabulary

It’s up to you for how you want to learn these. You’re probably going to want to create flashcards for yourself. Or, maybe some of you will just read the words and learn most of them like that. It’s not that difficult. Most likely, you’ll be able to find already made “katakana words” decks in Anki or Memrise (or whatever SRS you use). Less work for you.

If you do want to create your own decks and choose your own words, a search for gairaigo in Google will give you a lot of options. Also look for Wasei-Eigo, or loan words in Japanese. Whatever you search for, you’re going to find more than you need.

When you’re not sure whether or not a word is useful, search the word in Google and see how many results come up. If it’s a lot of results, then it’s probably a pretty common and useful word. If there aren’t as many results, maybe it’s not so common.

Give yourself a challenge to see how many of these words you can learn to recognize in a week. Once you can recognize them, you can start working on being able to recall them (which is harder). Recognition is always going to to be easier though it’s good to eventually be able to do both.

Good luck and enjoy all your new vocabulary!


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Tsukemono! The Wonderful World of Japanese Pickles

When we think of pickles in the US, it’s mostly the spear along with our sandwich or the slices on a burger. When I was growing up we had two types, sweet and sour. And maybe there were some pickled beets in the fridge that I refused to eat. Little did I know the riches I was missing elsewhere in the world.

In Japan, they’ll pickle anything that’s not moving. All kinds of things are pickled in different ways, creating healthy side dishes that add variety to traditional meals based on rice.

If you’ve never been to Japan, you may have seen a couple of these in restaurants (That pickled ginger with your sushi is one of them). But when you get there, you’ll find all kinds of mysterious things on little dishes with your fancy dinner and tucked in your convenience store bento. Come along with Tofugu on a journey through the wonderful world of Japanese pickles and find out what all those amazing little tidbits are about.

Many Ways to Get In A Pickle


Photo by Tokyo Times

Tsukemono 漬物 is the Japanese word for pickles, derived from tsuke “soaked” and mono “things.” You’ll see that most of the Japanese names for different types end in -zuke, which is the same word as tsuke when it undergoes rendaku in the second part of a compound word.

But “soaked” is far from the only way that pickles are made. Yes, some are made in liquids like vinegar, but other methods will probably surprise you.

Shio-zuke – salt pickles

The original and simplest, there are a couple of different ways of making salt pickles.

In one method, the vegetables are sprinkled with salt – although the word “sprinkled” may be misleading given how much salt is used – and put in a container. They’re covered with a weight or lid that presses down on them, which makes sure the salt penetrates. (Nowadays you can buy plastic containers that come with a pickle press). The salt makes the water content of the vegetables seep out by osmosis, so the container needs regular attention to drain the liquid.

Removing the water from the vegetable concentrates the flavor, and with less water, the vegetables are less susceptible to rotting. Salt pickles can take varied length of time. There’s a version that you just leave overnight. Another one is measured in months. Pickled plums, for example, are supposed to be left in the salt for the whole rainy season. The longer the pickling time, the more intense the flavors.

In the other method, vegetables are put in salt water in an airtight container. As Kikkoman describes it, “in this environment, the enzymes in the ingredients break down the food’s components into very different and flavorful substances.” That sounds a little scary to me actually but it’s nothing compared to our next example….

Nuka-zuke – rice bran pickles

Rice bran pickles are made by laying vegetables down in a specially prepared bed of rice bran. Boiled salt water is mixed with the bran. Then, similar to sourdough bread, you add some of the bed from an old batch that contains microbes to get the lactic acid fermentation process going. It must be mixed up regularly, traditionally with your bare hands, to keep all the little microbes growing and healthy.


Photo by Max Wheeler

I’ve never had the privilege of getting close to one of these beds (although I’ve seen them displayed in shops). But The Black Moon says this is how you know when it’s ready: “After a week or so the pickling medium should have a heady aroma and look like damp sand.”

Some rice bran pickling beds have been passed down for generations. It’s an astonishing thought in a century where everything in the supermarket has an expiration date printed on it. Like salt pickles, vegetables can be left in briefly or for a long time, up to several months, with different flavor results.

Kasu-zuke – sake lees pickle

Sake lees is the solids left over after sake, which is made from rice, is filtered. Like rice bran, instead of being discarded, people figured out how to use it to make pickles. Also cured for a variety of lengths of time from a few days to several years, they may actually be slightly alcoholic. Kampai!

Koji-zuke – koji pickles

You probably have never heard of koji, but Japanese food wouldn’t exist without it. It’s a microbe (let’s not call it mold, that sounds so unappetizing!). This little one-celled friend is responsible for soy sauce, miso, and sake, and it’s even been proposed that it should be called Japan’s National Fungus. Koji is mixed with rice to start the fermentation process that results in those fundamental products. And this koji mash can also be used to make pickles. These are somewhat sweet because koji produces amylase, an enzyme that produces sugar from the starch in rice.

And the rest….

Pickles are also made using soy sauce, miso, and vinegar. The most familiar to us, vinegar pickles are not usually for long-term storage. This is because Japanese vinegar is low in acid. I make one regularly with vinegar and a little soy sauce and sugar. Eaten fresh it’s more like a little side salad. Leftovers the next day are more pickle-y.

What’s that? You’d like to try the recipe yourself? No problem. Here it is.

Recipe for quick pickled cucumber:

Use pickling cucumbers or another type with the minimum of seeds – they have a better texture. If you have to use a regular American cuke, scoop all the seeds out.

  1. Slice cucumber and cut slices in quarters or halves. Finely shred some gingerroot.
  2. For a large cuke, mix 1/4 c soy sauce, 1/4 c rice vinegar and about a tablespoon of sugar. (Start there and experiment – you can go up to 2 T next time if you want it sweeter.)
  3. Mix it all up and refrigerate for an hour or two or three before serving. It’s also good but different the next day.

(Adapted from a recipe by Harumi Kurihara)

Tsukemono’s Little One-Celled Friends: Fermentation and Microbes


Some of these methods may seem weird to us. In our culture, we think food will spoil if left out of the refrigerator for five minutes. How can it possibly be a good idea to put vegetables in a tub of rice bran and leave them there, at room temperature, sometimes for months? And those pots of rice bran have been passed down for generations! And people mix them with their bare hands! Why aren’t people dying of food poisoning left and right?

Because these methods actually preserve food: They encourage good microbes, which keep out the bad microbes that make you sick.

In the US, fermentation is the new cool hipster foodie thing. There’s a kombucha bar at my Whole Foods and a stand at my local farmers market selling kimchee and sauerkraut. Maybe we’re finally starting to catch up. But Japanese cuisine always been all about the fermentation. As mentioned earlier, miso and soy sauce, both fundamental to Japanese cooking, are produced by fermentation. And aside from those quick vinegar pickles that are more like salads, most of the pickling processes involve fermentation too.

Preserving vegetables this way not only made them last longer when there was no refrigeration, some methods even made them healthier. Some types of pickles aid digestion. Rice bran pickles are high in B vitamins – a vitamin that the Japanese diet was short on when it was based mostly on white rice. Rather than throw away the B-vitamin-rich rice bran after it’s removed while making the white rice, pickling with it adds these vitamins back into the diet.

Famous Japanese Pickles


Photo by Shigemi.j

Japanese people make pickles out of almost every vegetable in so many ways that we could never list all the combinations. There are local specialties and all kinds of ingredients added for flavor. From herbs and citrus fruits to ingredients that add umami like kombu seaweed, bonito, and shiitake mushroom.


Photo by Sushicam

But there are a few pickles that you’ll see everywhere:

  • Umeboshi is the Japanese plum, salt-pickled then dried in the sun. They come in a variety of sizes and different textures. They’re colored with red shiso (an herb) and are intensely sour. You’ll see them in bento and inside onigiri rice balls (careful, because they still have the pit). They’re said to have been made for over a thousand years, and to have an antibacterial effect that keeps the other foods in your bento fresh.
  • Gari is the pickled ginger you get with sushi. It’s a simple vinegar pickle. And in case you didn’t know, you’re supposed to eat it between pieces of sushi to cleanse your palate so you can appreciate the different flavors of each kind of fish. Young ginger naturally turns pink when pickled. But the bright pink kind you’ll often see is made with artificial dye.
  • Takuan is rice-bran pickled daikon radish.  It’s usually served in half-moon slices, and makes a good vegetarian sushi roll filling. Manufactured takuan is also often dyed nowadays, to a bright yellow color. Traditionally it’s dried in the sun before being pickled, which can make a pretty awesome photo.
  • Beni shōga is ginger in little red strips. You probably seen these on top of yakisoba or takoyaki. It’s pickled in the vinegar used to make umeboshi pickled plums. So its bright red color ought to come from the red shiso leaves. Sadly, today it is also usually artificially dyed.

How to Approach a Strange Tsukemono


Photo by Ruth and Dave

The earliest pickles were vegetables preserved in salt. One legend of the origin of tsukemono places it at Kayatsu Shrine in Nagoya. The shrine is now nicknamed Tsukemono Jinja and home to a festival celebrating the occasion each August. It’s said that the local people there traditionally made offerings of salt harvested from the sea and the vegetables from the first harvest. Because the offerings spoiled quickly, someone came up with the idea to combine them together in a barrel.

The result was a fermented product, which lasted a longer time. This was considered a gift from the gods, and with good reason. Before refrigeration, and greenhouses, and flying produce all around the world from places where seasons are different, there weren’t a lot of vegetables around in the winter. Pickles were the answer. They preserved spring and summer’s bounty for the cold time of year.

Now we can buy all kinds of fresh produce at any time of year. So they’re no longer necessary for providing vitamins and fiber when they’re out of season. But Japanese cuisine developed to include them, so a traditional meal doesn’t make sense without them. In fact, just rice, soup, and pickles count as a complete traditional Japanese meal.

Japanese food is often stereotyped as having delicate, subtle flavors. That may fool you into taking a huge mouthful of pickle, which could be a shock. Think of them more like a condiment. And remember that Japanese cuisine is based around a bowl of rice. Rice is indeed a subtle (some would say bland) food, and there’s nothing like a little bit of pickle to kick it up a notch when you take a mouthful of rice.

If you watch Japanese cooking shows, you’ll often see them taste something and say “this makes me want to eat a lot of rice.” That’s tsukemono in a nutshell. Oh, and that’s supposed to be a good thing.

Aside from their flavor, don’t forget how important presentation is to Japanese food. Tsukemono in their varied colors add eye appeal as well.

Japanese Pickles Today


Photo by anjuli ayer

Pickles used to be made by hand in each household, and each tasted a little different. Your mom’s rice bran pickles really were different from everyone else’s, because the microbes on her hands were different. Now, homemade pickles are usually lighter kinds that only take an hour or a day or two to make. Most people go to the store and buy the more labor-intensive kinds.


As noted above, manufactured pickles are often made with artificial dyes. Read the ingredients on the packaged ones. You’ll find they are about as similar to traditionally made pickles as instant ramen is to a real local ramen shop. Remember that many of these pickles take days or weeks or even months to make in the old-fashioned way. So commercial ones take a lot of shortcuts.

However, you can still find traditional stores specializing in handmade pickles, which may have hundreds of kinds. You should look for them when you’re in Japan, because even if you don’t buy anything, it’s as much a true traditional Japanese sight as any temple or rock garden.

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How Monster Strike Conquered Japanese Mobile Gaming

Teaching kindergarten has its advantages. We sing, dance, read picture books, and even take naps. As an added bonus, the children keep me up to date with the latest trends in their world.

A couple of years ago Yo-kai Watch exploded onto the scene and possessed children’s handhelds, t-shirts, school stationary and even bentou lunch boxes. This past year the kids showed me a mobile game called Monster Strikeor Mon-Suto (モンスト) to those in-the-know. To kindergartners in Japan, owning a smartphone means one thing; Monster Strike.

And Mixi, Monster Strike‘s parent company, couldn’t be happier. Mixi used to be Japan’s social media kingpin, until they were overtaken by upstart competition. Yet, instead of squandering resources on a losing battle, Mixi hatched a plan to conquer new territory – the mobile gaming scene. Monster Strike’s domination of the mobile gaming scene struck me as random, but was anything but.

By assembling a crack production team that brought old school gaming elements to the current mobile gaming world, Mixi and its pet Monster dethroned the leading mobile gaming king, forced the mighty Nintendo to take notice and became 2014’s mobile game phenomenon.

The Ballad of Mixi


Mixi had conquered Japan’s social networking scene. Or so it seemed. “At one point, 27 million people, or one in five Japanese, had a Mixi account,” says Jonathan Soble of the New York Times. But just when they appeared to have a secure grasp on the Japanese market, foreign competition entered the game.

Twitter, Line, and Facebook chipped away at Mixi’s market share by offering slightly different experiences. Line focused on chatting. Facebook allowed “real” people (more on that later) to connect and reconnect. Twitter offered second-by-second news, sharing, and personal expression.

Smartphones kicked archaic keitai (cell phones) to the curb by offering streamlined interfaces and smooth internet browsing experiences. Thanks to smartphones’ popularity and intuitive apps, Mixi’s competitors became more accessible and easier to use than they had been during the keitai era.

Facebook spurred a paradigm shift in Japanese social-networking. Although membership had been limited to those with registered college email addresses, in 2006 Facebook emerged from its isolationist shell, allowing anyone to join. Taking the opposite route, Mixi restricted membership to Japanese cellphone owners and ran strictly in Japanese.

Although Mixi’s strategy offered extra security, it came at a cost. It confined the Mixi experience to Japan. A Western import that offered the world, Facebook’s lack of limits gave it an air of possibility and sophistication.

Furthermore, Facebook brought a sense of reality to Japanese social networking. ” ‘Facebook values real-life connections,’ warns a message that pops up when a Japanese user withholds information.” While Mixi promoted the use of nicknames and false avatars, Facebook preferred real names and searchable true identities. Japanese users gave up Mixi’s anonymity for Facebook’s reality based potential.

Facebook helped its cause by creating a native Japanese interface. Blog-like walls and the “Ii ne” button, Japan’s equivalent to “Like,” made Facebook fun. Facebook’s notification page kept everyone up-to-date on their friends activities. Japan, a culture that embraces social “circles,” found Facebook to be a powerful social tool.

Mixi dipped into a tailspin and its stock plummeted. “Mixi stopped publishing membership data after the number of people who logged on at least once a month fell to half of what it had been at the company’s peak,” Soble says in his report. Currently, Facebook has grown to Japan’s ninth most visited site while Mixi has fallen to 13,406th.

Mixi was down, but not out. Ironically the technology that nearly killed Mixi would serve as the foundation to its meteoric rebirth.

Like a Phoenix


Mixi could have fought to the end and joined the graveyard of failed companies in this fast moving technological era. But they tapped out, regrouped, and lived on. They focused their remaining resources on a new endeavor – the lucrative mobile gaming industry.

Mixi’s move came with the mobile-gaming boom that’s swept up Japan’s young generation. GREE, Japan’s third largest social-networking operator, saw the number of users to its site more than double to nearly 10 million. Its profits increased multiple times over the past year on the back of popular mobile games created in house. The phenomenon underscores how social games, if they catch on, can lead to a huge gains.

With established names like GREE, Line, and Nintendo already thriving in the gaming market, Mixi didn’t take the task lightly. Like a sports franchise looking to rebuild, it secured the best free agent on the market, gaming industry legend Yoshiki Okamoto. The former Konami and Capcom employee (and creator of the “global megahit” Street Fighter II) teamed with producer and director Koki Kimura and Mixi’s head of localization Michael Oakland to engineer Monster Strike, the game behind Mixi’s unimaginable resurgence.

The plan worked. Monster Strike rocketed to number one in mobile app downloads, overtaking then-darling Puzzles and Dragons and stealing some of Nintendo’s audience. Mixi returned to the top, but of a totally different playing field.

Uniting the Old School and New


How did Monster Strike rise to the top? Mixi learned from its downfall and offered audiences a slightly different experience from its competitors. Although Monster Strike embraces current industry standards, Okamoto’s old tricks, like keeping the game “small,” made the difference.

Old School Co-Op

In a strategy fitting of Mixi’s origins, Monster Strike‘s production team sought to harness the joys of social interaction. Koki Kimura explained,

The thing about Monster Strike is that it was built from the ground up, by us, to be a communication tool – to get people playing games together in the same room again. (Nutt)

Monster Strike harkens back to the pre-internet era, a time when “multiplayer meant going to a friend’s house or hitting the local arcade. But cyberspace took multiplayer global and local co-op fell out of favor. By reaching back into gaming’s past, Monster Strike offers the novelty of playing with close friends in the literal sense. Since players cannot play together via the net, local co-op is one of the game’s unique hooks.

To drive the point home, Mixi took it a step further by rewarding cooperative play. Friends share the game’s limited continues . Using one continue allows everyone to play on, so teaming up means more opportunities to play.

Let’s Get Small


The sheer size of today’s console games has made their production expensive, time consuming and, according to Okamoto, frustrating. Giant worlds and complicated plots mean today’s games demand more commitment than ever for players to complete them.

The Monster Strike team felt many game fans don’t have time to invest in these “big” games. Okamoto explained,

People… don’t have a lot of time on their hands, so they want to find experiences that they can play for five minutes, ten minutes (at a time). (Nutt)

The Monster Strike team focused on making a smaller, more focused game. And it all starts with its palm-sized playing fields that encapsulate all the action. Since players needn’t worry about the world beyond the screen, they can focus on the on-screen action. For me Monster Strike conjured memories of arcade machines, like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong or Burger Time. The game’s action unfolds over an established, static background.

Monster Strike is also small in terms of time. Like Okamoto’s Street Fighter II, Monster Strike can be played in “short bursts.” The game progressively saves a player’s progress and small time investments add up. I have played it waiting on appointments, in line at the supermarket, and during commercial breaks while watching TV.

Lights, Touch Screen, Action!

“Action” sets Monster Strike apart from competitors like GungHo Online’s Puzzles and Dragons which focuses on “match-three” puzzle gameplay and A-Lim’s Brave Frontier which emphasizes classic RPG menu battles. Although those games feature onscreen action effects, the nature of matching gems and navigating menus disconnects a player’s initiation from the onscreen action.

Monster Strike’s battle system offers a sense of realtime action. In what can be described as a combination of Pokemon and billiards, players flick their character game pieces around a closed arena, sending them bouncing off the walls and into their foes and allies alike. This intuitive flicking action system gives Monster Strike a sensation of physical game interaction that many competing games lack.

Taking “User-Friendly” to a New Level

Monster Strike‘s smallness has also allowed producers to react to real time feedback and keep the game user friendly and fair.


In an era where “free-to-play” often translates to “pay-to-win,” Mixi sought to offer a free and fair gaming experience (Yvray). Koki Kimura says,

You can’t get the strongest character in Monster Strike by paying. Nor does paying get you to 10 levels beyond where you were before you paid… Skill should get you further than money. (Kain)

Just as Monster Strike rewards cooperative play, special items can be earned by logging in and participating. Players can’t buy the best characters. They earn them by winning special campaigns or through the games capsule machines. Players can spend money on coins or more playing time, but it isn’t necessary. In a break from the “pay-to-win” paradigm, Monster Strike facilitates a feeling of fairness by rewarding player effort and allowing players to succeed with no monetary commitment.

Embracing the Grapevine


Small games based in social networking lend themselves to real-time communication. Monster Strike‘s maintenance team reacts to player concerns with little delay. “Because it’s not a big, bloated triple-A game, you can actually make real-time changes based on this feedback” says Okamoto.

Recent frustrations with the infamously glitched Batman: Arkham Knight PC-port illustrate his point. Disgruntled customers numbered around 8,000 and WB Games decided to suspend sales of the game until the kinks were ironed out. Unlike giant PC and console games, small game production teams can respond with quick solutions. If problems do arise, players receive updates via the game, its website or social networking tools like Twitter or Facebook.

Small games also facilitate small updates and add-ons. Monster Strike constantly adds new and limited-edition campaigns, items, and characters. These small changes keep Monster Strike fresh and surprising. Players never know what to expect when they log-in.

How Monster Strike Competes with Consoles


Photo by Esther Vargas

While smartphones’ streamlined internet experience played a role in Mixi’s initial downfall, the devices’ proliferation sparked Monster Strike‘s rise. Today (nearly) everybody has a touch screen device with internet access. So mobile gaming’s access far exceeds that of stand-alone consoles. And the puzzles, dragons, and monsters have helped mobile games take a bite out of the console market. Since 2013 console and software sales have dropped, but the mobile gaming market continue to grow.

Smartphones have changed mobile gaming culture, taking a large chunk of both portable and home consoles’ audiences. Since parents already own smartphones, there is no need to buy children new hardware. Furthermore, there’s no physical software to buy. Monster Strike can be downloaded anywhere at anytime. Like Monster Strike, many mobile games are free or cost less than “bigger,” more time consuming console software.

While Monster Strike maintains a “small” game experience, it receives updates and continuously expands. Thanks to calculated strength limits, Monster Strike maintains a challenge and thrill many console games lose through grinding or building overpowered characters to make the game easy. Players never beat or finish Monster Strike. They play until satisfied or a new game attracts their attention. Of course, Mixi hopes the latter won’t happen.

How Monster Strike Struck My Heart


Many mobile gaming fads have come and gone but Monster Strike was the first to hook me. Free means guilt-free. Sure I’m wasting time, but at least I’m not wasting money. And since I play the game in minute spurts, I rarely feel like I’m actually idle.

I’ve unlocked top-tier characters and beat difficult campaigns without spending either a yen or cent. Monster Strike truly embraces its mantra of fairness. On the occasion that the game crashes or experiences technical difficulties, Monster Strike offers items or other rewards to make up for the inconvenience. As the game’s producers’ vision proves true, the Monster Strike goes out of its way to treat players fairly.

The kid in me loves the collectible characters. Monster Strike‘s unique cast ranges from historical legends, anthropomorphic military vehicles, beasts, robots, plants, cute girls, cool guys, and legendary heroes and villains. A continuous stream of new characters, including new evolutions and limited edition from franchise tie-ins like Gojira (Godzilla), Evangelion, Okamoto’s Street Fighter cast, and even TMNT makes “catching them all” nearly impossible.

But my favorite element is the action based gameplay. I have a ton of fun flicking my character pieces around the screen. And while critics may question Monster Strike‘s challenge and level of strategy, I have won and lost many battles based on my decision making.

Future Strike


Photo by Maurizio Pesce

Although Monster Strike’s explosion in popularity seemed sudden, it was anything but. The game achieved a deliberate success, engineered by an all-star production team that heeded gaming’s past and future while respecting its audience. As a result, Monster Strike offers a free-but-fair, constantly evolving action-based gaming experience.

Its insane earnings have not been ignored. “As of March 31, 2015, the game has been downloaded more than 30 million times and has daily revenues of $3.8 million” according to Wikipedia. Mobile gaming profits have grown enough to lure just about any game maker to the market. Even Nintendo decided to join the fray, announcing the development of five games for mobile devices.

Does Nintendo’s foray into smartphone gaming signal a continued fall for consoles, or is it just a passing fad? Although naysayers question the legitimacy and longevity of mobile games and free-to-play games in general, industry insiders like Okamoto and Konami CEO Hideki Hayakawa have declared mobile gaming the future. “Mobiles,” Hatakawa said, “will take on the new role of linking the general public to the gaming world.”

Will Mixi repeat past mistakes and rest on its laurels? Or will it continue to push the envelop?  Perhaps it will allow players to trade characters? Or combine characters to unlock special versions for each player? Maybe Monster Strike will create a versus mode? Or lend their popular characters to other games? If anything has proven true it’s that social elements rule the day.

However, with an anime series in production, expansion to the 3DS announced, and the availability of Monster Strike credit cards the Monster Strike hype train shows no signs of slowing down, at least for now.

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Attack on Titan: The Movie

The announcement of an Attack on Titan live action film brought mixed reactions from fans. Live-action movies based on on anime and manga tend to be disappointing. Although recent entries like the Afro Tanaka and the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy have shown improvement, they are the exception. Will Attack on Titan push the anime/manga adaptation envelope forward? Or is it destined to join Japan’s anime film purgatory?

The Cast


If one things was promising, it was Attack on Titan’s accomplished cast. Haruma Miura (NaokoBloody Monday), Kanata Hong (GantzGoth) and Kiko Mizuhara (Norwegian Wood) take the lead rolls as Eren, Armin, and Mikasa. The young trio is faced with the incredible task of battling giant monsters with a taste for human flesh. Though young, each actor has proven their acting chops in previous works.

Everyone looks great in their charismatic military-issue jackets and equipment. But the acting left me with mixed emotions. The dialogue’s delivery came across as over-done. Heroic lines were deadpan, and the grunts felt cartoony. In unfortunate cases post-dubbed voices didn’t even match the actors.


Attack on Titan’s cast emulates the source material to a fault. Poses and character movements match the dialogue’s cheesy exaggerations. Instead of acting, the cast tries to recreate the look of the anime and manga’s characters. But the style and strategies that succeed in anime don’t always translate well into live action. The acting took me out of the film’s world, something that never happened during the engrossing anime series.

The Look


Attack on Titan’s look is one of the franchise’s most attractive aspects. The manga and anime’s uniforms, logos, and weaponry made the series to a cosplay staple. The locations, houses, and forests struck me as post apocalyptic, yet old world European. These motifs made the series a standout among other anime and manga.

And the film’s costumes and weaponry are spot on. The costume designs do a great job capturing the look and feel of the anime. The “Vertical Maneuvering Equipment” (Rittai Kidō Sōchi) that allows military forces to grapple and swing around their surroundings looks authentic. Once suited up, the film’s characters look as cool, if not cooler than, their manga and anime counterparts.

Unfortunately the film’s environments don’t always do the series justice. The opening scene creates a sense of vastness within the city’s protective walls and the first village looks as if it were plucked straight from the anime. But the rest of the movie is generic and claustrophobic.

Once the heroes venture out into the open world, Attack on Titan feels cheap. Scenes of traveling through darkened woods look like they were shot in a park. Many of the scenes take place in darkness, rendering the architecture and environments of the source material invisible. The final battle unfolds in a crumbling village that’s too dark to have any charisma. Tactless camera work leaves most of this final sequence feeling like an empty green screen stage.

The Titans


What of the of those giant, creepy Titans?

Like the acting and sets, the giant monsters are a mixed bag. Most of them look as creepy, if not creepier than they did in the manga and anime. Seeing real people made up to be giant, naked monsters adds a new layer of reality. I like that the titans looked like giant versions of people in my everyday life. It added to the grotesque and discomforting nature of their actions.

Sadly, the titans aren’t this film’s best feature (that would be the costumes). Although most of the titans left me uneasy, others made me chuckle. My friend commented, “Don’t they look like regular oba-san and oji-san (old ladies and old men) from the neighborhood? I think I saw him at the grocery store yesterday!”

Despite the blood and guts exploding onscreen, these less inspired, less made-up, less creepy titans looked too much like regular people. Jokes and giggles overcame my shock and discomfort. The feeling of dread unfortunately never returned.

The Action


Once our heroes suited up it was time for action. Anticipation forced me to the edge of my seat; the costumes and weaponry looked so good as props, how would they look in action?

If there’s one thing holding Japanese manga and anime adaptations back it’s the special effects and Attack on Titan proves no exception. Actors clash with their obvious computer generated backdrops and enemies, the timing of their movements look awkward and unnatural. Quick cuts, angle changes and overwhelming darkness made the onscreen action feel jittery, rough and hard to see. Characters lose proper sense of speed and proportion. The cool, smooth action of the anime was lost in the live action film.

Overall the movie’s reminded me of the live action Casshern film, which felt awkward, but forgivable more than a decade ago. Attack on Titan offers little evidence that special effects have evolved since that time.

The Gore


When it comes to gore, Attack on Titan piles it on. The titans go to town on their victims, snapping off limbs like Pocky. Blood, guts, and body parts abound, complete with “squishy” sounds that occur with such frequency, they nearly crossover into parody. I would suggest leaving the kids at home, but the movie going audience proved I’m in the minority on that.

Old School Flavor


The titan battles, shot in a tokusatsu style (think Godzilla or Power Rangers), reach back to Japan’s cinematic roots. Actor’s and stuntmen in costumes duke it out while camera positions and downsized props (and actors) create an illusion of enormity.

It’s all super fast and super-choppy. But unlike the vertical maneuvering scenes, titan v. titan battles feel intense, shocking, and cool. Some viewers may be turned off by the guy-in-a-suit style, the titans being giant humanoids made it perhaps more fitting than in Godzilla or Gamera films.

The Plot


While the anime and manga created a deep story to match its rich world, the movie’s plot takes a backseat to spectacle. Most of the plot simply facilitates action.

As with all adaptations, purists will cringe at Attack on Titan’s story changes. Without spoiling any specifics, major plot points and infamous scenes (including an memorable titan “meal”) have been altered or abandoned for the movie. Some changes make sense. Others (like the aforementioned “meal”) left me scratching my head.

With an hour and a half run time, there’s little room for the deep character development and interactions of the animated series. Romances feel contrived. You never get a chance to connect with the characters like you do in the anime. Everyone comes across as a hollow archetype (if that). Of course this dulls the impact of anything that happens to any of the characters.

On the bright side, the terror feels real. Perhaps more real than in the series. Although the odds were stacked against the anime heroes, the soldiers had an air of confidence. The military appeared capable. In contrast, the film’s defense forces come across as inept, which makes the prospect of fighting titans even more terrifying. In the final scene, defense forces resemble lambs led to slaughter.

Attack on Titan Movie Review Verdict


Based on reputation alone, Attack on Titan is sure to be a hit. As a casual fan of the anime I found it disappointing as both an adaptation and a movie in general. The direction and style were a mess. I hoped it would provide what recent Marvel movie-verse films have: well paced, smooth, and watchable entertainment. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. I found Attack on Titan entertaining despite the disappointment, but it was a very rocky ride.

Attack on Titan is a mess of a movie that will disappoint those familiar and unfamiliar with the series alike. But if you plan on checking it out, see it on the big screen. The film’s faults will only be amplified when it hits the small screen.

Rating: 5/10


Your Japanese Weak Point

Humans are great at avoiding their weaknesses. It hurts to think about them, and our brains are wired to try and take the easiest route. It’s your perseverance that prevents you from doing what’s easy all the time, though. Because perseverance is a limited resource, you have to pick and choose what you spend it on to have the greatest effect. If you want to get better at Japanese, I hope that you spend it right here:

Contemplate on your Japanese for a few minutes. I want you to pinpoint your greatest weakness. What constantly holds you back? What trips you up? What kinds of things do you have to look up the most? What do you hate studying the most? The longer you’ve studied Japanese, the longer this contemplation will take and the more you’ll have to consider. But in the end, I want you to come up with just one thing. The “worst” thing. If you were to rank your Japanese language weaknesses, this would be #1.

After you figure it out, it’s time to come up with a plan that will turn your weakness into a strength. To do this, you have to drop everything else and focus solely on your weakness.

Think about the great professionals in the world. Baseball players, figure skaters, chess masters, computer programmers, etc. The reason they are great (and not just so-so, like everyone else) is primarily because they focused on their weaknesses. A figure skater isn’t going to spend all their time focusing on what they’re already good at. It’ll make them feel good about themselves, sure. But they won’t get any better that way. Instead, they’re going to work on the spinny jump that gives them the most trouble. The one that causes them to fall the most. If they can improve this one aspect of their skating, their entire routine will improve.

It’s the same for language learning (and everything else, actually!). The easiest example of this is kanji. It is many people’s weak point. Say you’re studying with a textbook, learning some Japanese grammar. You have to read the example sentences, and almost every time you come across a kanji, you have to look it up. Or, every time you come across a word that uses kanji (which is like, ALL THE TIME), you have to look it up.

When you have to look something up (that has nothing to do with the grammar you are studying), it will pull your focus away from what you’re actually trying to study. When you get back to the grammar, you have to refocus again. Moments later, you repeat this routine and keep repeating it, over and over again. This is very taxing on your brain. It ticks you one step closer to stopping for the day. Your brain only gets so many complete focus changes like this per day before it needs to shut down and rest, which means you won’t be able to study as long or as effectively.

But, imagine if kanji was one of your strong points. You would hardly need to look up kanji. You could study longer without needing rest. And, you could focus on the grammar, the actual thing you are learning.

The same is true for every other weak point as well.

Not all of you will be able to do this (because maybe you are studying in school). But at this point it’s best to drop all other Japanese study and focus only on your weak point. If it’s kanji, you would drop all grammar and only focus on learning more kanji, solidifying the kanji you know, and learning vocabulary that uses those kanji. You could, for example, decide to learn 200 kanji and 500 words (or just get to level 8ish on WaniKani) before coming back to your regular studies. When you do, you’ll be amazed at how much of a relief it will be. Studying will become fun again! You’ll progress much faster. Even though you take a step back in the short term, you’ll now be able to get to fluency faster than before.

So, what is your Japanese weakness? What will you do about it? And how will it help you to progress in your Japanese language ability?

If you haven’t yet, watch the video, and then get started right away. Turn your weakness into a strong point in your studies. In a month, let me know how it helped you improve your Japanese.


P.S. In case you’re having trouble coming up with weaknesses, here’s some that I see a lot:

  • Kanji
  • Vocabulary
  • Verb/Adjective/Noun conjugations
  • Transitive/Intransitive verbs (intermediate)
  • Reading Japanese names (advanced)
  • Gendered language (advanced)
  • Formal Japanese (advanced)
  • Just plain making sure you study a little bit every single day (habit forming)
  • Japanese particles
  • Hiragana reading speed
  • Katakana reading speed
  • Writing and/or stroke order
  • Typing in Japanese

You’ll know what your own weakness is, if you give it a think. If you don’t know what your weakness is, chances are you just haven’t been studying long enough. Be sure to come back to this concept in a few months.


Practicing Japanese on the JET Program: At Work and in the Community

Now that you’re settled on JET and have prepared your Japanese study regimen, it’s time to use all Japanese all the time! But wait. At work you have to use English all day. And the majority of your time on JET is spent at work. This means the majority of your time in Japan on JET Program could be consumed with English.

Because your job title is English teacher, it is possible to stay in English mode during work hours, even though you’re at a Japanese workplace. You may block out Japanese inputs during work time because switching your brain between English and Japanese is tiring. Then you may do the same after work. Over time this adds up and you can go months or years without learning as much Japanese as you had planned.

Just as you have to be purposeful in setting up your Japanese study regimen, you also have to be purposeful about listening and using Japanese in your daily life. That’s why we’ve put together some advice for practicing Japanese at work (when you should mostly be using English) and practicing Japanese after work in the community. Be consistent and you’ll see the gains you’re looking for.

Practicing Japanese at Work

Practicing Japanese on the JET Program Teaching English in Japan

Photo by Chris Lewis

There will be times at work when you can use Japanese. Any interaction you have with non-English teaching staff, for one. But with your JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) and students, it’s English a-go-go. And you’ll spend 90% of your time with these two groups.

With so much time spent on English, how can you maximize your own Japanese learning opportunities?

Reverse engineer English classes

This was an idea I had halfway through my JET experience. A few JTEs I worked used me for only 30% of the class, leaving me to stand at the back of the room awkwardly the rest of the time. After getting tired of pretending I was busy, I started bringing a pocket notebook to each class and reverse engineering the English being taught to the students. Having the English grammar on the board gave me a focal point. With the English in mind, I listened to the explanation in Japanese and learned the Japanese grammar equivalent.

Because I was a beginner at the time, every lesson was something I could learn from. But that doesn’t mean high level learners can’t benefit from class time down time. Our own Verity Lane used this time in her own way:

“When a teacher is speaking in Japanese in class, really listen. Don’t switch off. Learning to understand classroom Japanese can be really helpful. However, I would encourage particularly SHS JETs not to use Japanese in class. When you are in class you’re there to teach first, anything you learn comes second at that moment. It’s a time for listening practice, not speaking practice.”

Talk to students in Japanese during breaks

Though you should use English the majority of the time while at work, English is not beneficial to every situation. You may encounter students who are hesitant to speak English or are downright belligerent about learning in general. This is where your struggle with Japanese can help them. While the “yanki” students may take more time to warm up, those that are nervous about English can learn from your example. Tofugu writer Rich explains:

“Though I spoke English with students in class, outside of the classroom I’d often practice Japanese with my students – during lunch break, at after school clubs or if I ran into them outside of school. Not only did my Japanese improve, but students recognized my struggle with Japanese and became bolder in their use of English. Students learned more about me and my culture than they would have if I had built an ‘English only barrier.’ So in the end we both benefitted.”

Turn your lesson materials into study materials

If you’re making lesson plans for your students, reverse the English you’re teaching them into lessons for yourself.

For example, let’s say you’re a beginner at Japanese and teaching at an elementary school. Turn your lesson about animals into a self-study vocab lesson. If you’re an intermediate learner teaching senior high, take English sentences you’re writing for your students and translate them into Japanese.

Depending on your level and situation, you may get a lot or a little from this method. Even if you only learn a few new words, it’s worth the effort. You’ll be doing this work anyway. You might as well squeeze a little bit of learning out of it.

Use your desk time at work

If you’re having trouble blocking out study time at home, you may have all the time you need at work. ALTs and Japanese teachers are not assigned to a class for every period of the day. This is because Japanese teachers need time to prepare lesson plans, attend meetings, and chip away at other work duties. As an ALT, however, you don’t have quite as much to prepare. More than likely, you’ll be able to finish preparing for classes with time to spare.

Most JETs bemoan this part of the job (as I did), wishing there was more work to do or some other way to be useful. Certainly you can find ways to use this time that help your students, but most supervisors are 100% okay with you using this time to study Japanese. If you get your sit-down study time done at work, then the after work study time you have blocked out can be used for going out and using Japanese for even more gains.

Stay after school and chill with the teachers

If work is getting you down and you’re missing chances to connect with staff at your school, stay in the office after the students leave. Though you’re probably allowed to go home at 4:00p or 5:00p, stay after every once in a while, especially if you don’t have anything extra to do. After work hours, the teachers let down their hair and break out the snacks. The teachers’ room becomes a lot more lively and a little less stuffy. You’ll build all-important work bonds and get some Japanese practice. Increase your vocabulary and camaraderie at the same time.

Practicing Japanese in the Community

Practicing Japanese on the JET Program Cooking Group

Photo by masamunecyrus

After school is the perfect chance to get out and use your Japanese. No job titles restricting you to English now! Of course, real life rarely goes as planned. Your energy after work is bound to be sapped. It will be incredibly easy to arrive home, collapse and stay there. Don’t get me wrong. Collapsing and relaxing in a Japanese-free zone is necessary. But just like going to the gym, there are times when you have to force yourself. Here are a few things you can do to practice Japanese in the community.

Put yourself in new situations and keep a notebook on you

Chances are, you’ll get good at some survival Japanese right away because you’ll be put in situations where you have to communicate. But life is full of situations, with caveats, exceptions, and branching consequences. So drill some vocabulary and then get into situations where you think you’ll be likely to use it. Then get into them again. Each time you’ll get better at using the grammar and vocab you learned, as well as getting fuel for future study.

This future study fuel can be most easily remembered with a handy pocket notebook. This is something I did out of necessity and it ended up being one of my best teachers. When trying to communicate in a new situation, if you hit a wall, take note. This reveals gaps in your knowledge, which you should write down and add to you study regimen. Not only will you boost your ability level, but you’ll practically smooth out bumps in the road of your Japanese life.

Our own Verity shares her experiences in this area:

“Try to do things by yourself. It can be tempting to have a supervisor or a friend do everything for you. That’s fine at the start, especially for things like setting up a bank account, but don’t let it become a habit. If you don’t try it for yourself, you’ll never get better. Nothing bad will happen if you say something weird at the postoffice or the garage or the combini. And sometimes you can get a much better deal by doing things yourself. For example, I asked my supervisor for advice about getting my winter tires changed. His way cost me 8000yen. The next season I went to a garage myself and through a combination of Japanese and gestures, I got my tyres changed for 2000yen. Not only that, but I knew I could do it myself.”

Putting yourself out there

It’s great to get in casual chit chat with coworkers and students, but sometimes you need a lengthy, focused conversation to cement language concepts and force you to listen and talk longer. This is your “language power lifting” in comparison to usual “language aerobics.”

But how to do this?

Chances are, your town has community groups that offer conversation meet-ups or some kind of language exchange. Ask your supervisor if they know of any opportunities.

Look for volunteer activities. Part of your job is to serve your town anyway, so might as well get some language practice and connect with Japanese people while doing so. The great part about volunteer work is that it’s a nice break from routine of teaching and you’ll have more opportunities to use Japanese than you will at school.

Every prefecture has an AJET (Association for JET) group that organizes activities for JETs. Though you may only see other JETs, one of your fellow ALTs might bring a Japanese friend or coworker along. Or the event may involve interacting with Japanese people. At the very least they’re fun and stress relieving. At best you’ll get some Japanese practice in as well.

Join a club or group outside school, like taiko or ikebana. Even if you feel like you won’t like it, sign up anyway. Japan is a group-oriented society. So just being part of a group, whether you excel at the particular skill or not, will make you much more likely to become friends with the people in the group.

Another side effect of all this Japanese friend making is that it wards off culture shock and makes you less likely to join the “foreigners only club.” I spent some time in this club, mostly due to culture shock, and during that time my Japanese stayed right where it was. It’s a good idea to hang out with your fellow ALTs and forge those lasting friendships, but make sure you don’t exclude yourself from interactions with Japanese people. Your advancement in the Japanese language will suffer as will your ability to cope with cultural adjustments.

Practicing Japanese on the JET Program

Practicing Japanese on the JET Program Wakayama

Photo by jpellgen

These strategies are the ones I’ve done myself or learned from other ALTs and Japanese learners. But there are certainly others. If you have some that you’ve tried or an idea to improve one listed, leave it in the comments below so we can all benefit.

The best news is that practicing your Japanese in Japan is a virtuous cycle. When you study Japanese, you’re learning to communicate better. When you communicate, your Japanese gets better. All this raises you up and makes your life in Japan easier overall. Here’s to your continued learning and ever-improving life in Japan.

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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From Katana to Rocket Launchers: The Unique Weapons of Ancient Japan

When I imagine a samurai, I envision a warrior with a sword. And not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for cutting down foes with supreme efficiency. A Japanese battlefield conjures up more variety, with spearman and archers entering the mix.

However, Japan’s ancient warriors also plied less glamorous, lesser-known and therefore possibly more interesting weaponry. Implements like the jutte and kusurigama allowed users to defend and combat the katana. Fans, smoking pipes and other weapons disguised as everyday items meant one had to be wary at all times. Other weapons, like rocket launchers, seem more fit for manga than actual battlefields.

Tofugu covered Japan’s Secret Weapons of World War II. Next we’ll delve deeper into Japan’s tradition of unique implements of violence, protection, and destruction by exploring weapons used long before the modern era. Dive into our comprehensive list of Japanese weapons from the Edo period and before.

Japan’s Famous Blades – The Katana

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Katana

Photo by Rama

Japan’s most famous weapon needs little introduction. Japanese blacksmiths’ method of repeatedly heating and folding the steel made a katana’s sharpness and strength unique among the world’s swords. Strong enough to be used defensively but sharp enough to cut through limbs, the katana earned the reputation as the soul of the samurai – a reputation that lasted long after the samurai abandoned the sword for the pen.

Japan’s Not-So-Famous Blades – Tekkan and Hachiwari

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekkan

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Hachiwari

At first glance, the tekkan and hachiwari may not look impressive. The dull, heavy blades served as striking weapons made for hitting armor-clad enemies with maximum impact. Sergei Mol explains, “The tekkan was specifically developed (for use) against opponents wearing armor and is therefore necessarily heavy so that it can be used against the armor’s weak points” (64).

Also dull and heavy, hachiwari resemble the tekkan but employ a short hook at the base which may have been used to hook an opponent’s armor or to gain leverage to pry the armor apart (Cunningham). Instead of the katana’s deadly finesse, the tekkan and hachiwari aimed for heavy-handed disarmament.

Fans of War – Gunsen, Tessen, and Gunbai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Gusen

Photo by BrokenSphere

In ancient Japan even implements intended to provide relief from summer’s heat and humidity became weapons. But the gunsen and tessen, foldable fans reinforced by metal plating, were only relied on as a last resort (Deal 167). Police officers and night watchmen used these blunt, nonlethal instruments to beat perpetrators into submission (Cunnigham).

The subtle, but mighty fan could even defeat entire armies. Battlefield commanders carried fans as symbols of rank, but these large, solid “gunbai” also served as means of communication to deployed forces. Visible from long distances, motioning the fan directed actions on the battlefield. Today sumo referees use gunbai to alert viewers to the victors in sumo matches.

Smoke Your Enemies – Kiseru Battle Pipes

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kiseru

Image from Brooklyn Museum

Imagine you’re a pilgrim wandering the hillsides of ancient Japan. Weary from the long journey, you decide to take a break under a tree’s shady branches. Just when kick back to enjoy a puff from your trusty pipe, some ruffians show up demanding money. What do you do?

If you’re a badass, you beat those inconsiderate jerks with your pipe. Although not all were designed for fighting, a glance at pipe’s size and weight might give away its user’s intent. “Many pipes were made of metal and were… three to four feet long. Several edicts point to the fact that such pipes were used in brawls… Some pipes were fitted with regular guards, just like swords” (Ratti 323). Battle pipes became so common, martial arts schools devised techniques in their use (Cunnigham).

The Sickle – Kama

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kama

Photo by Katorisi

According to legend, the kama started out as a farming implement, used to cut grass and crops. However, Don Cunningham believes that the kama evolved from the jingama, a similar sickle used for clearing campsites. Either way, the weapon gained popularity among low-ranking bushi and could be used for cutting and slashing.

The Ten-thousand Power Chain – Manriki-kusari

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Manriku

Although the manriki-kusari (sometimes called fundo-kusari or weighted chain) gained fame as a ninja weapon, police officers actually adopted the weapon to disarm and capture criminals (Cunningham). No matter the wielder, the versatile weapon had many advantages. The collapsable chain could be rolled up, concealed and easily transported. It could be used for climbing, restraining an enemy, and could be wrapped around body parts for extra protection ( Mol 125).

In battle, a user could shorten his grip and taylor the length as a situation called for. Once in motion, a manriki-kusari moved at speeds that rendered it invisible. An experienced practitioner could swing the chain around himself to keep opponents at bay. Thanks to its weighted end, the manriki-kusari doubled as a projectile; its metal weight could be thrown to strike opponents. Yet unlike other throwing weapons like darts or knives which had to be retrieved to be used again, the manriki-kusari’s weight returned to the hand of its wielder via its attached chain.

The manriki-kusari could also ensnare and immobilize an opponent’s weapon. The swinging chain could not be cut by a blade and would instead wrap around it, making it particularly affective against the katana (Mol 125). Once the chain entangled an opponent’s weapon a skilled user could disarm an opponent.

But manriki-kusari had disadvantages too. A difficult weapon to master, a manriki-kusari user could injure himself with the flying weight. Despite its adjustable nature, the manriki-kusari proved weakest in confined spaces like crowded or wooded areas where the chain could not be swung freely, limiting its power (Mol 125).

The Best of Both Worlds – Kusarigama

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kusarigama

Photo by Worldantiques

Law enforcement also made regular use of kusarigama, which combined the manrikigusari and kama (Cunningham). Enemies could be kept at bay by the swinging weighted chain and then slashed with the blade in close combat.

The Japanese Mace – Chigiriki

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Chigiriki

Made of wood or metal, this staff featured a weight attached to a chain at the top that was used to trip, strike, or disarm an opponent (Campbell 63). With the chain concealed within the shaft, chigiriki could be disguised as an ordinary walking stick or staff.

Death From Afar – Yumi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Yumi

Photo by Fukutaro

The original samurai weapon, the Japanese bow has a long and storied history. Isolation from other cultures allowed Japan to develop its own unique archery tools and techniques.

Japan’s oldest hunting an ceremonial bows date back to 10,000 BCE (Friday). Without the wood binding technology of other countries, Japan developed very long wooden bows, some over 2.5 meters, to maximize their power (Friday 69). A low grip developed to account for the bow’s length, its use from horseback, or to achieve maximum power. “Whatever the reason for its initial adoption,” Friday writes, “gripping the bow two thirds of the way down its length maximizes its rebound power and minimizes fatigue to the archer far better than the more familiar centered grip” (70).

Thanks technological limitations, Japan developed an innovative bow with a distinct shooting style that predated the katana, matchlock or rocket-launcher.

 Death From Not-So-Afar – Fukiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Fukiya

Image from Golgo 13

Fukiya are, without a doubt, ninja weapons, as depicted in the 17th century Mansenshukai ninja scrolls ( Blow-darts made little noise, were easy to transport and could double as flutes, pipes, or breathing straws. In a pinch bamboo or paper could be used as substitutes. Poisoning the darts made the weapon extra effective.

But Fukiya weren’t solely used as weapons. The tube could launch notes and messages to allies. Hunters also used fukiya to fell birds.

Today Fukiya has evolved into an international sport, similar to archery ( Capable distances range from 10 to 90 meters. Practitioners list the weapons simplicity as one of its charms.

Fire Arrows and Bohiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Bohiya

Photo by Worldantiques

Fire arrows and miniature rockets called bohiya could wreak havoc on wooden buildings, fortifications and naval vessels. Although originally fired by bow, the Japan’s introduction to gunpowder and firearm technology lead to portable, ignition-powered arrow launchers resembling rifles (wiki). “The incendiary material on the fire arrows was made from rope that had been waterproofed by boiling it in a mixture of water, the ashes of burnt cedar leaves, and a certain iron substance, all wrapped in paper with a fuse… During one seas battle we read of bohiya ‘falling like rain’ “(Pirates, 31).

Bombs Away – Horokubiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Horokubiya

Also used in naval combat, horokubiya mimicked a Chinese technique that encased explosives in iron, ceramics or paper. The bombs were filled with gunpowder and metal shards (Pirates 31). According to Stephen Turnbull’s Fighting Ships of the Far East these bombs would be launched from a rope spun overhead or via handheld catapults resembling lacrosse sticks (40-41).

Samurai Rocket Launchers – Hiya Taihou

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Hiya

Photo by Worldantiques

That’s right, ancient Japan even had its own rocket launchers. In the mid-1500’s, Portuguese firearms inspired Japanese to build their own guns and an evolved form of fire-arrows launched from portable, gun-like firearms. Mini-cannons called hiya taihou battered enemy troops and fortifications with explosive rockets made of thick wooden shafts and metal tops (wiki).

Firearms – Tanegashima (Japanese Matchlock)

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Matchlock

Photo by ryochiji

At the end of the 16th century Japan made some of the world’s best firearms. And when the West had given up the matchlock for newer technology, Japan continued to innovate, even devising ways to protect the ignition mechanism from rain. The short stock and elegant style became a trademark of Japanese firearms (Ebrey).

Despite the katana’s prominent place in Japanese warrior imagery, projectile weapons always served an important place on the battlefield and firearms proved no exception. Warlords took advantage of firearms lethal power and matchlocks became a lethal force on Japanese battlefields.

Throwing Death – Shuriken

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Shuriken

Photo by kaex0r

Widely known as throwing, ninja, or Chinese stars, Turnbull translates the term as “hand-hidden blade” (Ninja 61). Although they came in various shapes and sizes, the classic throwing star with multiple points spun in flight and therefore required less skill to throw than long throwing knives or other shapes.

Can You Dig It? – Kunai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kunai

Photo by alelag

Kunai are dagger-like throwing weapons made famous in ninja anime like Naruto. However, the flat, trowel-like kunai made a better tool than projectile. Ninja used kunai for scaling and digging holes into the wattle, daub and plaster of castle walls (Ninja AD 61).

 Watch Your Step – Testubishi or Makibishi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Makibishi

Black Belt Magazine dubbed these weapons “thorns of surprise.” Small metal spikes resembling children’s jacks, testubishi were thrown on the ground to slow opponents down and prevent chase. Spikes were long and sharp enough to penetrate thin soles wore at the time. As writer Tiko Yamashita points out, “They could also be wielded offensively in a counterattack.” Wielders had to plan ahead, however, as the little spikes could become a disadvantage to the thrower as well.

Death In the Palm of Your Hand – Yawara

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Yawara

Photo by Evan-Amos

Sometimes called kubotan, yawara are small grip weapons that fit in the palm of one’s hand. Though they may be pointed, yawara usually have blunt ends at each side made for striking an opponent and proved especially effective on pressure points (Nardi). Rounded or hexagonal, a yawara’s greatest advantage lied in gripping the weapon, which strengthened its user’s punch and prevented hand breaks (Gambordella).

Not Just For Falling Trees – Ono

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Ono

Photo by Worldantiques

Japan’s stone axes predate those of iron and steel and made ono a preferred weapon of Japan’s ancient yamabushi or warrior monks. “The yamabushi used these pole-axes (some six feet tall) in the thick of battle, whirling them around at varying heights; or in individual encounters” (Ratti 322).

Not Just For Fighting Fires – Tobiguchi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tobiguchi

Photo by Fg2

This axe-like tool acted more like a hook and was used to clear debris away from burning buildings. “Even during a fire it was important to be armed… and one had to be prepared for the possibility of someone taking advantage of the situation and attacking” (Mol 103). As proof of their use as weaponry, some Tobiguchi featured a hook to aid disarmament. The fire tool known as “kite beak” earned the nickname “kenkatobi” (喧嘩鳶) or “fighting kite” as it popularity among commoners (Mol 104).

The Long and Short Of It- Bo and Jo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Bo

Image from IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Dating back to the prehistoric aborigine, “the bo, or long wooden staff, is the most archaic of weaponry in Japan”(Lowry 21). Warriors took advantage of a bo’s length, striking from afar or swinging it around to ward off enemies.

Bo come in many shapes and sizes. For example, the maru-bo is round while the hakaku-bo hexagonal. While the average bo measured 5 to 6 feet or about the height of its user, the shorter jo’s length was dictated by the wielder’s preference. “The humble jo seems quite plebeian. And yet, the jo possesses many of the attributes of all three of these revered arms: the striking stroke of the katana, the thrusting reach of the spear, and the reversible striking power and indestructibility of the bo” (Lowry 21).


List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kanabo

Photo by mamboo

The most lethal looking of the “bo” family, the metal spiked kanabo came shaped like a bo or tapered like a bat (Brown) and specialized in bludgeoning enemies. Perhaps that’s why it’s the preferred weapon of Japanese oni, a type of demon or ogre that frequents Japanese folktales. In fact, the image of an oni with kanabo is so powerful it became immortalized in a kotowaza (proverb), “oni with an iron club” (鬼に金棒 or Oni ni Kanabo) which meant invincibility.

Not Just For Nails – Otsuchi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Otsuchi

Photo by Bejnar

The giant battle hammer was used as a battering ram and probably smashed down more doors, gates and walls than enemies (Pauley 131).

Rise to New Heights – Kyoketsu-shoge

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kyoketsu

Photo by Budoka720

The kyoketsu-shoge consists of a hooked dagger attached to a rope with a ring-shaped weight at the end. The double edged dagger could be used for stabbing while the ring swung overhead and distracted or ensnared the enemy (Mol 121).

Disarmament – Jutte

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Jutte

Photo by renfield kuroda

Since only top ranking police officers could carry swords, lower ranking police officers relied on alternative weaponry like the versatile jutte. The jutte could deflect sword attacks and disarm a suspect with minimal injuries. Jutte required close proximity to be useful, but once in range the weapon could strike, entangle the clothes, restrain and even throw enemies (Cunningham).

While many claim the kagi or hook of the jutte could be used to entrap a sword blade, David Cunningham believes the kagi served to “prevent (the jutte) from slipping through the wearer’s obi (belt). The kagi may have also been used to entangle the clothes or fingers of an opponent” (67). Common among the era’s police officers, the jutte came to symbolize the job.

Restraint – Sasumata

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Sasumata

This long pole could entrap perpetrators with the u-shaped fork at its end. The pole’s protruding spikes entangled a suspect’s clothes, aiding capture. But sasumata weren’t limited to subduing criminals and “firefighters used similar tools to hold up ladders or manipulate buildings’ beams and other structures” (Cunningham 96). Today spike-less, smooth sasumata survive as restraining tools that can still be found in Japanese elementary schools, used to pacify rampaging children (an extreme rarity).

Rope-a-Dope Edo Style – Torinawa

Police used special ropes called torinawa to arrest subdued criminal suspects. “Cord loops or metal rings were often used instead of actual knots to bind the suspect… Binding someone without employing knots apparently avoided the disgrace associated with bondage” (Cunningham). Like chain weapons, versatile torinawa were easy to transport and could be hidden under the belt or robe of an officer.

The Ladies’ Choice – Naginata

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Naginata

Photo by Alton

Although used by both sexes, naginata became the standard weapon of upperclass female warriors. Also known as “the woman’s spear,” women of the ruling classes practiced and often mastered the weapon (Ratti 247). Although it resembles a spear, a naginata’s curved blade allows for sword-like strikes instead of simple stabbing motions (Ratti 247).

Climbing Claws – Shukou & Ashikou

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Ashiko

Shukou and ashikou are short spikes worn over the hands or feet. Although meant for climbing, in a pinch they could double as weapons.

Claws of Death – Tekko-kagi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekkokagi

Photo by Sevar

Worn over the hands, tekko-kagi’s protruding metal claws could be used for scraping and striking. Descriptions of the techniques vary. Serge Mol explains one practice where the user wields a dagger in one hand and wears a tekko-kagi on the other. The claw allowed users to slash and defend with natural hand motions. With proper technique, even katana could be ensnared, disarmed or broken.

 Death Rings – Kakute

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kakute

Photo by Hyakuraiju

Contrary to intuition, users wore these rings with their spikes hidden in their palms as the kakute’s main advantage lay in its grip. One ring would be worn on the middle finger while a second ring could be placed in the thumb. Serge Mol writes, “The main purpose of the weapon was to gain a firm hold on an opponent, with the teeth digging into pressure points to cause pain… The surprise effect of this weapon would cause an opponent to lose concentration, making follow-up techniques easier” (111). Like tekko, kakute could be dipped in poison for added effectiveness (Levy 67).

Cat Scratch Fever – Nekote

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Nekotte

Image from SNK’s King of Fighters

These sharp, claw-like weapons fit over the finger tips and could be dipped in poison for lethal results (Levy 67).

Okinawa’s Weapons

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Okinawa Weapons

In 1609, Japan occupied Okinawa and outlawed conventional weapons to prevent rebellion. These limits inspired creativity and lead to weaponless karate and kobudo, Okinawa’s unique weaponry (Yamashitra 23).

Tinbe Rochin

Okinawa’s tinbe rochin, a short spear and shield combo, differs from Japan’s shieldless, bladed warrior culture. “The usage is more akin to a combination of Zulu fighting and European sword and small shield fighting” (rkagb). The vine, cane, metal, or turtle shell shield parried attacks, allowing users to counter opponents with upward strikes from a short spear (rkagb). Unlike the agricultural, fishing and Okinawa’s other tool-based weapons, the tinbe rochin harkens back to the kingdom’s ancient battle culture.

Danger Sticks – Nunchaku

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Okinawa Nanchaku

Image from Enter the Dragon

One of the most famous, glorified and downright cool weapons, legend has it that nunchaku originated as a grain pounding tool in Okinawa. Constructed by connecting two sticks with a rope or chain, nunchaku could be swung around the body for defense or wiped outwards to strike an enemy.The short sticks and foldable chain meant nunchaku could be tucked away for secrecy and easy transport.

Three Pronged Attack – Sai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Sai

The heavy, three pronged sai traces its roots back to ancient China (rkagb). Okinawan sai are often used in pairs, though a third may be carried to replace one that has been thrown (Seiler 29). Similar to the jutte and due to their widely spaced prongs, sai made effective defense against longer weapons like bo and katana.

Side-handle Baton – Tonfa

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tonfa

Photo by Yo

This straight wooden rod with a short, perpendicular handle started as a digging tool, cookery hook, or as the handle to a grain grinding stone (Nishiuchi). Practitioners use the tonfa as a defensive guard and striking weapon. Masters could wield the weapon in a fluid spinning motion, relying on its “centripetal force,” akin to nunchaku. Tonfa are thought to have influenced the shape of modern police batons.

Paddle Your Foes – Eku Bo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period eku

Another classic instance of a trade tool becoming a weapon, the eku bo or fisherman’s oar was about six feet in length. Eku bo techniques resembled those of a standard bo staff, but the wide, heavy end made the eku bo unbalanced and more difficult to master (wiki).

Knuckle Dusters – Tekki and Tekko

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekko

Image by chris 論

In western terms tekki and tekko would be described as brass knuckles, but I prefer the term “knuckle duster.” Two similar theories explain the weapon’s origin, both involving horses.

The International Ryukyu Karate Research Society explains that “the use of the tekko appears to have originated when bushi in Okinawa used the shoes of their horses as a make-shift weapon to defend themselves against a surprise attack” (McCarthy). However, others describe the weapons as “iron stirrups gripped by the straight bar so that the curved upper portion wraps around the knuckles of the fist” (Seiler 36).

Although tekki made speedy striking weapons, they also offered defense against weapon strikes. However, their small surface area and closeness to the hand meant users had to be precise (and brave) to rely on tekki for defensive techniques (Seiler 36).

Death By Hoe – Kuwa

What originated as a simple farming hoe, the kuwa consists of two parts, the long handle and the blade. “When holding a kuwa with the butt-end facing your opponent and the heavy metal end to the rear, the metal actually serves as a fulcrum and helps increase the speed and dynamics of the shaft. What results is a tool that can keep pace even with fast weapons, but can then follow up with punishing, heavy blows”(Ikikaiway). Although the blade dealt maximum damage, a strike with the blunt side of the blade could stun an enemy. The blade could also be used as a hook, to trip opponents.

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Complete!

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Arsenal

Photo by T. Enami

Japan’s ancient fighting weapons ranged from working class tools like the kuwa and kama, to those created with deadly intent like the kanabo and katana. Jutte, sasumata, and other weapons meant to subdue opponents proved necessity is the mother of invention.

The overall variety of Japanese weapons inspires the imagination and continues to spark interest in ancient Japanese battle culture. Funny that Japan, a country that takes pride (for the most part) in its peaceful, safe reputation has such a weaponed, violent heritage.

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richard reeves infamy book review cover


There’s a lot that gets glossed over in a US history class, but the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II is a big one. Whether it’s because so much was going on in Europe at the time, or because it’s an uncomfortable part of US history, a lot of people leave school with only the vaguest of understandings that the US once interned thousands of innocent Japanese and Japanese Americans in the desert without charge or trial, because they had the face of the enemy. In fact, conservative US politicians have recently made curriculum changes to further downplay what these American citizens suffered due to their race. Fortunately, there are books like Richard Reeves’ Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II that gamely fill in the gaps.

Reeves sets the stage for what’s to come by diving into the immediate aftermath of Japan’s aerial attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941. War on Japan and the rest of the Axis powers is swiftly declared, and the debate over what to do with all the Japanese and Japanese Americans living along the West Coast begins, the thinking being that anyone with Japanese blood was probably a spy. (Fun fact: They were completely wrong.) If you’re a person who really enjoys political law and machinations, you probably won’t feel the same narrative drag I felt so early in the book. Of course, Reeves has to cover how simmering anti-Japanese sentiment snaked its way through congress and it’s definitely not uninteresting, but the unrelenting barrage of politico names could feel slightly overwhelming at times, especially when I was trying to settle into the book.

This lead-up section doesn’t last long at all, though (probably because the decision to intern people of Japanese descent was so astonishingly swift), and soon Reeves gets down to the business of showing us what life was like for these US civilians, who were forced to abandon their jobs and homes, and live behind barbed wire and under armed surveillance for the remainder of the war.


Photo by J Curnow

Another author might have chosen a small handful of people to follow through this time period, but instead, a person will be brought up in a line or two, then never mentioned again. Although this doesn’t give readers the same level of intimacy they might have had if the book took a more micro view, these quick glimpses of hundreds of different people do drive home one of Reeves’ points: that though the government and the public at large painted anyone who was even a little bit Japanese with a big, two-dimensional brush, the fact of the matter was that these people came from all walks of life and didn’t all think the same. Young, old, rich, poor, pro-Japan, anti-Japan, city mouse, country mouse, and on and on. I’ll admit, though, that there were some people I wanted to hear more about, like the woman who, when forced to leave her home for an internment camp, was approached by a man who wanted to buy her beloved porcelain dishes for a criminally low price. Instead of taking him up on it, she wordlessly smashed each plate at his feet.

George Takei of Star Trek fame even gets a brief one-line mention. As a five-year-old at the Santa Anita internment camp, he thought the searchlights that would follow him as he walked to the latrine at night were there to help him find his way, rather than to stop him from escaping. Most of the book is made up of tiny anecdotes like this, though not all of them are so charming on their surface, of course, and even those that are, like the one about Takei, still drive home the tragedy of the surreal situation.


Photos by Don Graham 1, 2

And although this book primarily covers WWII stateside, there were a few nuggets of insight into Imperial Japan. Japan often mentioned American internment camps in their propaganda across Asia, and Japan’s codes were fairly easy for code breakers to solve, because the level of Japanese fluency a foreigner might have was deeply underestimated. I don’t think there is enough about Imperial Japan to really make it worth your while if Imperial Japan is your main interest, but for me, those small asides felt like an unexpected bonus.

Infamy’s true strength, however, is how well it paints the Japanese internment camps for the complex situation that it was. I’m not talking about if the government’s decision to intern their own citizenry was justified (obviously not), but rather, that there were so many different layers working at once. Outside the internment camps, there was debate over the usefulness of internment at all, particularly because many of these Japanese Americans could be and wanted to be actively aiding in the war effort. The military desperately needed Japanese translators, many of whom were now behind barbed wire. Not to mention the brave Japanese Americans who had enlisted before the internment went into effect and were now fighting for a country that treated them like the enemy.


Photo by Don Graham

Inside the internment camps, there were also sharp divisions in the community, as seeds of pro-Japan dissent were sown as more indignities and inhumane treatment were foisted upon them. Gangs formed, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for pro-Japan mobs to attack those who were anti-Japan and willingly cooperating with the internment camp authorities. Near the end of the war, some people were fooled into renouncing their American citizenship and thousands were repatriated – many of whom had never set foot in Japan before and preferred to remain American citizens.

Like any good historian, Reeves also makes sure the reader grasps the connections between the events surrounding Japanese internment camps and the Civil Rights Movement. Of particular note is that Chief Justice Warren, the same man who voted for public school integration in Brown vs. Board Education in 1954, was the same man who, in 1942 as Attorney General of California, put forth the order to remove Japanese Americans from their homes and intern them. Reeves theorizes that Warren’s immoral actions in 1942 weighed heavily on him throughout the rest of his judicial career, perhaps making him more sympathetic to other civil rights issues.

Before reading Infamy, I considered myself quite knowledgeable on the topic of Japanese internment camps, but after finishing the book, I grasp the historical context so much better, particularly the role of Japanese American soldiers in World War II. (Reeves devotes a decent portion of the text to military life for soldiers who were in very real danger of being killed via friendly fire for looking like the enemy.) Though there’s a lot of information packed between the covers (not to mention the maps, bibliographies and biographical notes), Reeves succeeds in giving a clear, complex and most importantly, human, retelling of Japanese internment camps.

Richard Reeves Infamy Verdict

Infamy doesn’t start as strong as it could, at first focusing a little too much on some of the more sterile political machinations instead of the human lives affected by them, but 50 pages in, the narrative shifts over to the people who were forced to leave their homes and businesses on the coast in exchange for empty barracks in the desert. If you’re already decently familiar with Japanese-American internment camps, I will very hesitantly say that you can probably pass this one by. But you will be missing out on a lot of insight that may surprise you. If you’re only vaguely aware of internment camps, and want a deep, foundational dive into the subject, this is a great book for that purpose.

Buy: Amazon


Rating: 8/10