...and saved the country's largest social network from destruction


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.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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



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.

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

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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 (sportsfukiya.net). 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 (fukiya.net). 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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  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Anne Walthall. Pre-modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History
  • Friday, Karl F. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan
  • Levy, Joel. Ninja: The Shadow Warrior
  • Lowry, Dave. Jo, Art of the Japanese Short Staff
  • Mol, Serge. Classical Weaponry of Japan: Special Weapons and Tactics of the Martial Arts
  • Nardi, Thomas. The Yawara Stick. Black Belt Magazine: Aug 1989.
  • Pauley, Daniel C. Pauley’s Guide: A Dictionary of Japanese Martial Arts and Culture
  • Ratti, Oscar, and Adele Westbrook. Secrets of the Samurai: A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan
  • Seiler, Kevin L., Seller, Donald J. Karate-Do
  • Turnbull, Stephen R., and Wayne Reynolds. Fighting Ships of the Far East
  • Turnbull, Stephen Richard, and Wayne Reynolds. Ninja, AD 1460-1650
  • Turnbull, Stephen R., and Richard Hook. Pirate of the Far East 811-1639
  • Yamashita, Tadashi. Advanced Tonfa: Japanese Weapon of Self-defense
  • Yamashita, Tiko. Thorns. Black Belt Magazine, June 1990.
  • Fukiya.net
  • Mastering the Yawara.
  • Tonfa History and Selection
  • Kuwa – Okinawan Hoe (And Tool of Self Defense!)
  • ISBA Japan Branch
  • International Ryukyu Karate Research Society
  • Weapons of Ryukyu Kobujutsu: Tinbe-Rochin.
  • Eku
  • Bo-hiya
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


Umbrellas in Japanese Culture

For longer than humankind has had words to complain about it, rain has been drenching us. Trees and caves provided adequate shelter for our ancestors. Over time they even built roofs to protect their heads from the soaking assaults of the heavens. Still, finding shelter from the rain meant you were stuck in one place until it relented. That is until some clever fellow had the idea of putting a roof on a stick and carrying it with him! With this new umbrella technology, people could roam wherever they pleased, safe in the knowledge that they would not be drenched.

Umbrellas have long been a feature in the daily life of Japan, and in its mirror, Japanese art. Let’s take a stroll together down the puddle-strewn alleys of umbrella history. Mi kasa es su kasa (mega  bonus bilingual pun points).

From Paper to Plastic


Photo by A. Davey

Oil-paper umbrellas were a variety invented in China which spread to many neighboring countries. No one knows exactly when umbrellas were invented, but it’s thought they came to Japan via Korea during the Asuka period (538-710).

At first umbrellas were such a luxury item that they also had spiritual significance. But over the centuries some changes were made, and by the Edo period umbrellas were much more common. Still, a lot of craft went into making umbrellas.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), if you were a samurai short on dough, making umbrellas at home and selling them was an acceptable way to make extra cash. Umbrellas also became a common feature of visual and performing arts (more on that later).

From the Meiji period onward, and particularly after World War II, traditional umbrellas were eclipsed by Western style ones. Post WWII, the plastic tablecloths used by occupation forces inspired the founders of the White Rose company, who created the world’s first plastic umbrella. They took a while to catch on, but catch on they did. This trend continued to the point that 500 yen plastic convenience store umbrella are found all over Japan.

Today most of these are made in China, and White Rose is the only Japanese company still making plastic umbrellas. There are now very few artisans making traditional umbrellas, mostly in Kyoto, Yodoe, and Gifu Prefecture.

An Umbrella for Every Occasion


The Japanese word for umbrellas is kasa 傘. The kanji has four of the kanji for person 人under what one can imagine to be an umbrella. Isn’t that cute? The word for the traditional paper umbrellas is wagasa 和傘, or “Japanese umbrella.” However, there are several types.

  • Bangasa 番傘 are bigger heavier umbrellas, typically used by men.
  • Higasa日傘, or “sun umbrellas” are not oiled and only used for shade.
  • Honshiki nodategasa 本式野点傘 are large and used for outdoor events like an outdoor tea ceremony.
  • Ja no me kasa蛇の目傘, or “snake’s eye umbrellas,” are named for their pattern of concentric rings that we might call a bull’s eye. They are often lighter, with fewer ribs, and are usually used by women.
  • Maigasa 舞傘 are also light and used for dancing. In fact, maigasa may just be a name applied to higasa when they are being used for dancing.

One may also hear umbrellas referred to by their place of origin, such as Kyo wagasa or Gifu wagasa.

Umbrella Tech


Photo by JoshuSasori

Wagasa differ from Western umbrellas in some important ways. The most obvious of these is the counterintuitive decision to make wagasa with paper, a less than water-proof material. But the paper is coated with oil, armoring them quite nicely against the rain.

Wagasa also open differently than Western umbrellas. They have 30-70 bamboo ribs which spread as the umbrella is opened, unfurling the paper (which is attached along the length of the large outer ribs) along with it. Western ones open with the tension of the metal ribs forcing the covering open, and the two are usually only attached at key points.

These differences mean that the ribs of an open wagasa remain straight, while those of a Western umbrella curve, creating a dome. Finally, closed wagasa stand handle-down, rather than handle-up like Western umbrellas.



Photo by Magnus Manske

To begin, the artisan prepares the materials. Next they attach the bamboo frame to the opening/closing structure. This means fitting the many ribs into what is essentially a wooden ring with notches cut into it, and then threading all the ribs together at that base. Then a large piece of washi (traditional paper) is cut and glued to the ribs.

After drying, the paper is colored and decorated before being coated with linseed oil for waterproofing. It must then dry again for a few days or a couple weeks. Finally, a few other parts or decoration are attached.

Umbrellas in Japanese Culture



In the kabuki play “Sukeroku,” which premiered in 1713, the titular character sports unique makeup, a purple headband, and ja no me umbrella. A bit of a playboy, he uses it for keeping his hair stylish while traversing the streets of Yoshiwara.

There are quite a few umbrella dances, some of which are featured in kabuki plays, or are inspired by said kabuki dances. Other umbrella dances can be seen at some festivals. For example, in Tottori you can see an umbrella dance every August. Coinciding with O-Bon, the Shan Shan Matsuri features a parade of dancers with rainbow umbrellas. Apparently it began as a way to pray for rain. Last year they made the Guinness Book of World Records for “Largest Umbrella Dance,” with 1,688 participants.



Wagasa are finely crafted, beautifully decorated tools. If taken care of they could last decades. But when an umbrella survives for a hundred years it might become something…else.

Sprouting two arms and a single eye and leg, an umbrella can become a kasa obake or karakasa kozo. These are examples of tsukumogami: objects of daily life that have reached a great age and become animated. Kasa obake are not particularly harmful, but a little mischievous, and may give you a lick.

It also has a lesser known cousin, the hone karakasa or “bone umbrella.” It is a tattered umbrella that takes to the sky on wet, windy days. It is an omen of bad weather.



Being a common feature of everyday life, and an aesthetically pleasing one at that, umbrellas can be seen in many woodblock prints. Whether in the hands of actors, geisha, or ordinary townsfolk, there are a lot of ukiyo-e featuring umbrellas. Here’s a few:


“Komachi Praying for Rain,” (c. 1810) by Toyokuni


“Couple Under An Umbrella in the Snow,” (c.1750-1770) by Suzuki Harunobu (1724-1770).


Japanese umbrellas even found their way into the paintings of Western artists, like this one by Aimé Morot (1850-1913).

Modern Culture


Just the gentle pitter patter of the rain on my umbrella is enough to make me smile. But perhaps you’re looking for more.

How about a ninja in the rain? I saw this guy at Kumamoto Castle, and also picked up my own katana shaped umbrella, complete with samurai family crests. You can read a bit more about these anachronistic combos of awesome: umbrella katanas.

Not enough, you say? Then I give you the UnBrella, invented by Hiroshi Kajimoto. The inside opens to become the outside, keeping your pants or whatever dry when it’s closed. It also stands on its own.


Still not enough? Last October, OK Go released the video for their song, “I Won’t Let You Down,” filmed in Japan with hundreds of umbrella wielding extras. I don’t know if the band members were aware of Japan’s umbrella history, though they are on record as being inspired by Singin’ In the Rain and the now-famous Robot Restaurant. Filmed in one take, it still took four days to get it right, partly because of rain. Even though the humans had plenty of umbrellas, the weather postponed their use of personal mobility units and drones.

If that doesn’t brighten your rainy day, then you’re just a wet blanket.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Daiki Suisan Super Fresh Sushi Restaurant

Daiki Suisan Group, or Daiki Fisheries group, has a fresh fish distribution system. They do all kinds of business related to fish, from selling at markets, to kaitenzushi (Sushi-Go-Round restaurants), to classic sushiya restaurants.

Their restaurants are located in Osaka and Nara prefecture, and I visited one of them in Sakai, Osaka. This is a great place where you can eat delicious sushi. Because they sell fish that they catch themselves, you get really fresh sushi and seafood dishes for a reasonable price. Let’s dive into our Daiki Suisan Sushi restaurant review and an ocean of fresh fish flavor!

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review Inside

I first visited the Daiki Suisan traditional sushi restaurant. As you can see, this restaurant has a nice decor and is really clean. I visited between lunch and dinner time, so there were hardly any customers. Apparently, it gets very busy during peak times, so try to come during that window between meal times, like I did, to avoid the crowds.

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review wall

I really liked the interior of Daiki Suisan. This pretty wall, decorated with various fish kanji, is particularly neat. I’m not sure how many of them are on Wanikani, but if none of these are on there, I’ll suggest that Tofugu create a “Level 魚.” Do you think that’s a good idea?

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review chef

Their fish are very fresh and the chefs make sushi and sashimi behind the counter. Can you read the leftmost sign? It says “名物 生・本まぐろ解体(めいぶつ なま・ほんまぐろかいたい).”

“名物” means “specialty,” “生” means “raw,” “本まぐろ” means “bluefin tuna,” and “解体” means “filleting.” They have a bluefin tuna filleting event just for your information. Just so you know, this event doesn’t take place everyday. I didn’t get to see it. For the event schedule, please contact the restaurant at 072-258-1003. You can say, “本まぐろの解体ショーはいつですか?”(ほんまぐろのかいたいしょーはいつですか?/Honmaguro no kaitai shou wa itsu desu ka?) which means, “When is the bluefin tuna filleting show?”

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review ice

There are fresh ingredients on sieves with an adequate amount of ice to keep them at the perfect temperature. From shellfish to fish to…a lemon and horse beans?

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review tablet

Once you are seated, you can place an oder simply by touching the screen on your table. It’s easy because you don’t have to speak Japanese. But if you prefer to speak Japanese, just call out, “すみませーん!” (Excuse me!) and a waiter will come and take your order in person. The phrase to get this started would be, “直接注文していいですか?”(ちょくせつちゅうもんしていいですか?/Can I order directly?)

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review tempura

I ordered assorted Tempura for 780 yen (tax excluded). The crunchiness of the outside was just right. It wasn’t too oily and the and the inside was soft. I really enjoyed this delicate dish.

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review Sumiso

Do you know what this is? It’s sliced octopus with a vinegar and miso dressing, called “sumiso”. While I didn’t have any alcohol with it that day, but this goes really well with beer, sake, or shochu. If you want to try making it, I found a recipe for sumiso octopus, though it’s not the same as the restaurant’s. Try making it anyway to get an idea of what it’s like.

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review assortment

And, here is my “特上にぎり盛り合わせ” (とくじょうにぎりもりあわせ / tokujou nigiri moriawase /Premium assorted sushi) for 1280 yen (tax excluded). It’s been a while since I ate real Japanese sushi. They were all fresh and well made. I like all-you-can-eat sushi in Canada as well, but Japanese sushi is more sophisticated and elegant, I think. I actually stopped by this place the day I arrived at Kansai airport. After one bite, I had a big smile on my face, perhaps as big as Totoro’s.

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review miso

My mom and I ordered miso soup. The left one is called “aka-dashi” using red miso. The right one is normal miso soup (miso-shiru) using mixed miso (red and white).

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review kaiten suhshi go round

Besides the traditional restaurant, there is actually a Daiki Suisan Kaitenzushi (Sushi-Go-Round) restaurant, as well.

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review kaitenzushi

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review conveyor belt

I just peeked inside. It’s fun to grab sushi from the conveyor belt, especially if you like eating a lot of great sushi really quickly without having to stop and order.

Daiki Suisan Sushi Restaurant Review conveyor kanji

If you want to learn fish kanji before Wanikani uploads “Level 魚,” you can grab a sheet here for free. Yay!

After all that, I was stuffed and satisfied. It was such a lovely meal, especially so as it was the first meal of my trip to Japan.

Daiki Suisan Rating

  • Uniqueness: 6/10 – There are many sushi places in Japan, but not many places have a bluefin tuna filleting event. Their fish is really fresh because they have their own fresh fish distribution system. For these reasons, I rated it a 6.
  • Taste: 7/10 – All of the sushi was tasty, but not extraordinary, to be honest. I added a bonus point because it was my first meal upon reentering Japan, so I also rated it a 7.
  • Accessibility: 3/10 – You need to walk about 1km from Hatsushiba Station of Nankai Koya Line, or about 2km from Shinkanaoka Station of the Osaka Subway. Ideally, you would have a car, so I rated it a 3.
  • Overall: 6/10 – I would probably go back there someday, if I was in the neighborhood. Their food was tasty and reasonably priced. It’s accessibility isn’t good and I’d probably only go there by car. Daiki Suisan is a chain restaurant in Osaka and Nara, so if you do come across one, I recommend going there. For this, I rated it a 6.


Rating: 6/10

Daiki Suisan Access

  • Address: 607-1 Nakamuracho Kita-Ku, Sakai Central Whole Market 1F, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, Japan 591-8012
  • Phone: 072-258-1003 (+81 72-258-1003)
  • Hours: 11:00~22:00
  • Card Cards Accepted: JCB, AMEX, Diners
  • Smoking: Smoking is allowed in all seats except during the hours of 11:00~15:00

JET Program Japanese Study: Setting Yourself Up for Success

When you first arrive in Japan, it feels as if you’ve got all the time in the world to study. But 1-5 years can fly by fast (especially the 1). Unless you’re planning to live in Japan long term, there will eventually come a time when the total immersion of Japan is not available to you.

You may not see yourself using Japanese after JET. But every bit you learn will make your life easier in Japan. Also a second language increases your marketability, no matter what job you apply for.

Whether you come to JET with a degree in Japanese or next to zero experience, you have a prime opportunity to maximize your learning and take your language ability to new heights.

Read on for good habits, better ideas, and best practices for getting the most out of your Japanese language learning on JET.

The Bare Minimum (What You Should Do Before You Arrive)

kana study notebook

Photo by Ivana Vasilj

For those coming to Japan with zero Japanese ability (like I did), learn kana as quickly as possible. If you don’t have time to learn it before you go, you have a 12+ hour flight ahead of you in which there’s nothing to do but sit.

Use a few hours of this time to cram kana into your short term memory. As soon as you land, you’ll be surrounded by opportunities for your brain to recall what you’ve learned.

For easy and efficient kana guides that help you remember with pictures and mnemonics, click the links below:

If you’ve still got time/energy, go over the first 3 chapters of Japanese for JETs (more on that below), or a better textbook. The more you can understand about basic sentence structure before you land, the better. That way, you can start putting together the handy vocab you learn and use it to communicate right away. If this isn’t possible, cram some survival phrases to hold you over for a few days until you get enough down time to study basic grammar.

The point is to hit the ground reading and speaking, be it ever so rudimentary. The sooner you start using Japanese, the faster you will learn and the better off you’ll be.

Get Your Study Materials Together

japanese textbook for japanese study

Photo by abuckingham

Before you can study, you’ll need study materials. Though you may have some already, CLAIR provides two sources for learning Japanese:

  1. The Japanese for JETs textbook
  2. The JET Programme Japanese Language Course

The Japanese for JETs textbook is CLAIR’s effort to offer some kind of beginning language study materials to JETs that may arrive in Japan with nothing. It comes with a CD and pages full of words. I found the first few chapters useful when I was starting out, but switched to better learning materials as soon as I learned kana.

The general consensus about this book is that it’s good if you’ve got nothing else. But considering the wealth of info online and the fact the book is filled with romaji, it’s best to pass on it and find something better.

CLAIR also offers the JET Programme Japanese Language Course. As recently as a few years ago this was still administered by mail, but it has since been moved online. It consists of a beginner and intermediate course, which you can choose between freely without testing. There is also a Translation and Interpretation Course which you have to test into.

If you want to sign up for this course, tell your supervisor in October when they give you the JET Participant Contact Information Confirmation/Language Course Survey Sheet.

The course consists of lessons and four or more tests a month. If you miss the test submission deadline three times, you are removed from the course.

On the plus side, the deadlines are good way to keep yourself on track. Aside from that I don’t know many other positives. I never signed up for the course myself and most people I knew who did switched to better study tools rather quickly. This old review from 2010 seems to like the course, especially the grammar explanations. But I would imagine the course has changed a lot since then (hopefully for the better). CLAIR itself offers some positive reviews from JETs who have taken the course, but take them with a grain of salt.

When it comes to the negatives, Tofugu writer Verity gives us her experience:

“I completed the beginner’s course, but gave up on the intermediate. The beginner’s course is in romaji, which is really its biggest fault. The grammar explanations are not clear. I almost always had to look them up elsewhere before I could get them. They were less explanations than examples. Also, showing the books to Japanese co-workers often made them confused too. The multiple choice tests (that used to be scantrons that you posted in, but are now done online) often have more than one answer that could be right, but it’s just a case of picking the more right one. Even my co-workers couldn’t work it out sometimes. There isn’t much content in the books either in terms of vocab or useful expressions. I had a friend who took the Advanced course and she was very frustrated that even the advanced course had furigana. It wasn’t advanced at all. Basically, they are written like Japanese English textbooks, about as interesting and useful, ie. not very. They are incredibly patronising. The only good thing I heard was that it gave people study deadlines, but people didn’t actually use the books to study for the monthly tests.”

It’s really up to you whether or not to take the course. It’s absolutely free, so you might as well sign up and try the first lesson and judge for yourself.

If you find Japanese for JETs and the JPJLC lacking, head on over to our page of recommended Japanese learning resources. Pick out a few textbooks, websites, and apps you can use to build an effective study regimen.

A word of advice: no matter what your study regimen looks like, make sure it includes kanji. You’re likely to learn get a lot of grammar, speaking, and listening practice because you’ll be surrounded by it. But kanji won’t come automatically. This is where a program like WaniKani could do you a lot of good. Not only is it an easy way to have kanji learning fed to you with a silver spoon, your Japanese life will ensure you have plenty of opportunities to spot kanji in the wild, further solidifying what you’ve learned.

Do a Little Sit down Study Every Day (Don’t Worry, You Can Start Small)

japanese apartment

Photo by Karl Baron

Once you’ve gotten your study materials, you need to set aside study time. Even though you’re surrounded by Japanese, you may not be immersed. The ALT job (pretty much) requires you to use English 8 hours a day, after which time you may usually be so tired that you don’t go out. Even if you do immerse yourself, immersion doesn’t equal learning. You still need to have sit down and study every day. It’s the only way you’ll learn new material that you can try out in real life situations.

Learn by Doing

volunteering in japan on jet program

Photo by Hajime Nakano

Nothing gets vocabulary or grammar stuck in your head like using it. Why else would textbooks be filled with exercises? But better than textbook exercises is practical application. As former JET and Tofugu writer Verity advises:

“Get involved in teacher’s activities, not just school clubs. Learning through doing is a very powerful tool. For example, I helped the teachers clean the gym and set out chairs before ceremonies. The teachers I was working with explained things in Japanese. I helped through a combination of listening and watching others. Doing the activity you just learned the words for cements it far more than just looking at it on paper. Also, helping with such tasks will improve your relationship with other teachers, so they may be more willing to communicate with you at other times.”

JET Program Japanese Study Success = Failure

festival in japan on jet program

I’ll end with some great advice I got from my Prefectural Advisor soon after I arrived in Japan. “Language is about communication, not perfection. If you’re using hand gestures and messed up grammar, but eventually get your point across, you’ve succeeded.”

I, knowing almost zero Japanese at that time, was terrified to speak, especially surrounded by other JETs who had studied Japanese as their undergrad major. But his advice released that anxiety and allowed me to fail. And fail I did. A lot.

“Failing your way to success” has become a popular idea in recent years and for good reason. That’s how learning works.

If you’re on JET, study every day. Then go out and fail. You’re in the best place you’ll ever be to do it.

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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Oishinbo A La Carte

One of my favorite things about Japan is the food. And one of Japan’s favorite things about Japan is the food. One way you can tell is that so many stories are built around it. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of food in Japanese drama: unlike American TV, Japanese TV is full of shows set in restaurants, and those settings are not just nice backgrounds – important plot points may depend on a character’s memory of a certain flavor of broth.

Another great thing about Japan is that there’s manga for everyone no matter what kind of story they like. So of course there’s manga about food. One of the most well-known is Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki, which has been running since 1983 and has sold over 100 million copies. The title is a combination of oishii “delicious” and kuishinbo, roughly “glutton,” and if you don’t read Japanese you can get a taste of the series in a seven-volume compilation published by Viz.

The main character, Shirō Yamaoka, is a newspaper reporter. He’s not particularly enthusiastic when it comes to his job, but he’s obsessed with food. He’s put in charge of a project called the Ultimate Menu, what the English intro describes as “a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine.” And I guess they really mean ultimate, because it turns out to be an excuse for him to travel all over the country to do research at restaurants and places where ingredients are produced.

Oishinbo A La Carte review manga panel preview
The other main character is his father, a famous potter, who’s also obsessed with food. However, their shared love is a source of conflict, rather than understanding. The father is a perfectionist who thinks there’s only one right way to cook things and enjoys yelling at people when they’re not. Yamaoka thinks his father drove his mother to an early death, and they’ve been estranged for years. Unfortunately for Yamaoka, a rival paper enlists the father to run a competing project, the Supreme Menu.

Based on that improbable setup there’s a little bit of what you might call overarching plot, but if that’s your main requirement in a series, this one probably isn’t for you. In fact, rather than being chronological, these volumes are collected by themes, including Vegetables, Fish, Ramen & Gyoza, and Izakaya Pub Food. Because the compilations jump around in time, you’ll sometimes have, say, two characters just as co-workers in one chapter and then clearly having been married for quite a while in another.

But who cares. We’re here for the food. The overexcited arguments about the best way to make rice balls, the philosophizing about what food means to the Japanese soul, and the recurring Japanese food drama tropes of lives being changed in large or small ways by a particular meal or dish. Take the first story in the volume The Joy of Rice. (Of course there’s a whole volume about rice, how could there not be?) In this story, a rich collector is going to lend a valuable Renoir painting for an exhibition, until he’s insulted when he’s taken to dinner at a place that’s supposedly great and the meal isn’t up to par. The reason? They did shocking things like serving sea bream and sweetfish when they’re not in season!

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Yamaoka saves the day by taking him to dinner at a place that looks small and unassuming, and there’s a moment of shock when the meal is just rice, miso soup and one grilled fish. The collector’s skepticism is quickly overcome by the exquisite perfection of each simple ingredient in each simple dish. It’s a typical scene where the character eating the food recognizes somewhat unbelievable details, like he can tell where the dried bonito used in the broth was made. And it ends up with another classic trope when he bites into the grilled dried fish and discovers it is the kind from his hometown. The memory of dishes from one’s personal past is often an important point in Japanese food fiction.

In this story we also see what kind of guy Yamaoka is. While he has high standards for food, he’s not a snob. For example, he found the quaint restaurant above by consulting a homeless guy he knows who sorts restaurant trash in Ginza and eats their leftovers.

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The series is concerned not just with cooking, often including competitions among various characters, but with ingredients. This provides an excuse to travel to farms, to take rice to a lab and measure pesticide residue and moisture content, and to generally geek out about every detail of what the Japanese eat.

The volumes also include short essays by the author, and there are notes in the back explaining words, bits of history, and sometimes the place of certain things in the series. But there’s no hint of this in the actual panels that are explained, so you’ll just have to read them all at the end.

Oishinbo A La Carte Review Verdict

Personally, I find the exaggerated conflict between Yamaoka and his father gets old quickly, but I understand that it’s useful setup so that the characters can argue passionately about cooking. I’m willing to tolerate that. Everything else about this series is a lot of fun if you’re the sort of person who spends a little too much time thinking about food. Especially Japanese food. And if, like me, you can’t get enough of characters exclaiming with glee about the flavor of blowfish milt or rhapsodizing about a perfectly boiled potato, pick it up!

Buy:  Amazon: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5, Vol 6, Vol 7


Rating: 8/10


The Tofugu JET Program Guide

Welcome to the Tofugu JET Program Guide, a comprehensive collection of articles, guides, and resources that cover JET life from start to finish. Consider it your experienced JET friend with the best knowledge and advice.

Whether you’re thinking about applying or are in the middle of your JET career, this guide has something for you. I wrote the content in this guide along with Tofugu’s own Verity and Rich. All of us are JET Alumni. There are also interviews with other JET Alum and people with great insight.

Best of all, this guide continues to be updated. Check back often to see what new advice and ideas the Tofugu JET Program Guide can offer as you walk the path of living and working in Japan on the JET Program.


25 Reasons To Join The JET Program (And 8 Reasons Not To)

reasons to join the jet programThe genesis of your JET Program journey. Before applying, you need to know if you even want to. This guide can’t make the decision for you, but it’s designed to help. Here’s a small taste:

Reasons to Join

  • Generous JET Program salary
  • Unparalleled language practice
  • Learn more about your own culture
  • And many more…!

Reasons Not to

  • Culture shock
  • Training is dubious or nonexistent
  • And a few more…!

Though the reasons to go (25) outweigh the reasons not to (8) in this list, I’m not saying JET is a definite yes. Not all factors weigh equally, and individual reasons will often weigh heavier than anything I’ve written here. Additionally not all “cons” are cons to everyone or even myself necessarily. They’re simply the things I think most people find negative about the experience.

Check out some JET Program reviews and give the article a read. Let the information bounce around in your head, and come to your own conclusion. If you feel the JET Program is for you, read on!

Read: Should I Apply for the JET Program?

How to Apply for the JET Program

It begins.how to apply for the jet program

This guide contains everything you need to know to get your JET Program application right the first time. It’s really all paperwork. Fill in this, staple that. But it’s a lot of paperwork, and it’s easy to let one or two little things slip. The JET desk is known for being particular. So a little mistake, like a missing staple for example, could mean disqualification.

Check out this guide to get everything you need in order. The only things not covered is the all-important Statement of Purpose, which we cover next.

Read: How to Apply for JET Program

How to Write the JET Statement of Purpose Essay

how to write the jet program statement of purpose essayAnd here it is. The JET Program application’s Statement of Purpose (SoP) counts for the majority of your application score. How well you write and what you write will pretty much determine whether or not you’re accepted. Meeting the JET Program requirements for the application alone won’t be enough.

While there is no formula that guarantees acceptance, there are definitely best practices and avoidable pitfalls. Our guide to the SoP breaks down each of the official prompts to help you form the best possible two pages you can write. Nothing can guarantee success, but this guide will get you thinking the way you should to get accepted for an interview.

Read: JET Program Statement of Purpose Essay Help

The Ultimate JET Interview Guide

how to interview for jet programOnce you pass the application stage, it’s onto the JET Program interview. Interviews are nerve-racking no matter what. But the JET Program pits you against a panel who asks notoriously tough questions. You may be asked to create a lesson plan and teach on the spot. If your application says you were in choir class, you may be asked to stand up and sing. And you’ll definitely be asked about your reaction to awkward and culturally ambiguous situations.

Never fear. I know what it feels like to prepare for this infamous interview. I also know what JET Program interviewers look for because I’ve been one. This guide gives my advice from both sides of the table, as well as some helpful interviewing tips and strategies.

Read: JET Program Interview Help


What To Do After You’ve Been Accepted to the JET Program

post acceptance jet program guideAfter you’re accepted to the JET Program, the real work begins. “Accepted” may not be the right term for the stage immediately following the interview though. If you pass the interview, you’re “shortlisted.” Basically you’re tentatively accepted provided you do a few more things. These things are nothing compared to the paperwork you did to apply in the first place though. Check out this guide to figure out what you need to do to become a fully accepted member of JET and how to complete these tasks.

Read: JET Program Post-Acceptance Checklist

Your JET Program Packing Guide

jet program packing guideIt’s time to move your life across the ocean. Packing makes this task extra hard. What’s necessary? What’s unnecessary? What is available in Japan? What products can you not live without?

While all this depends on the person, there are a few things that apply to most all JETs. Having your winter clothes sent a few months after you, example. This packing guide is filled with just about everything you need to know. And it should definitely bring up a few considerations you may not have thought of.

Read: JET Program Packing List

The Post-Arrival JET Program Moving Checklist

jet program move in checklistAfter you arrive in Japan, there’s a good deal to sort out. You’ve got home life, work life, cell phone, internet, insurance, and legalization of yourself so you don’t get deported. While your supervisor should help you square most things away, there’s a good deal you have to do yourself. Use this checklist to make sure no important to-dos get lost in the shuffle.

Read: JET Program Arrival Things to Do

Culture Shock

Culture Shock Part 1: Defining Culture Shock

identifying and defining culture shock on jet programAfter you’re settled in and feel like you’re getting the hang of life in Japan, culture shock usually sets in. Culture shock is talked about extensively in pre-departure orientations and materials. But these are all given months before culture shock information is relevant. Jump back to those materials and this article to refresh yourself when you start to feel a little bogged down. This first part in a 3 part series defines what culture shock is so you can be ready before it hits.

Read: JET Program Culture Shock Defined

Culture Shock Part 2: How to Prepare for and Recognize Culture Shock

preparing for culture shock on the jet programThis picks up from the last article. Using the definition from part one, we start to learn how to actively recognize culture shock. Also, a list of things to do before culture shock hits makes it easy to build a defense wall so the effects aren’t felt as badly. Think of them as little bits of culture shock insurance.

Read: JET Program Culture Shock Preparation

Culture Shock Part 3: How to Cope with Culture Shock

coping with culture shock on the jet programFinally we get into the practical tips for dealing with culture shock while you’re shocked. This article supplies 10 ways to cope and 4 ways not to. The list of 10 includes a few solutions most people don’t think of. The list of 4 are actions we think are helpful or at the very least benign. But in reality these things make matters worse.

Read: Coping with Culture Shock on the JET Program

How to Cope When Japan isn’t Perfect

help for jets on jet programLike any other country, Japan isn’t perfect. Sooner or later, something will knock you off balance. Thankfully there are a lot of ways to regain your footing. Verity outlines a strategies for easing culture fatigue and organizations that you can call on when you need a helping hand.

Read: How to Cope with Culture Shock in Japan

Getting the Hang of Daily Life

Learning to Drive in Japan

getting your license in japan jet programMany JETs get placements where they need a car to survive. If you have to get a car in Japan, Verity has written a guide based on her experiences. It may take a few attempts at the test. It may take some studying and sweat. But eventually you’ll get your shiny Japanese driver’s license and take to the streets. Beep! Beep! Here comes you.

Read: Getting your License in Japan

Getting Down and Dirty with Japan’s Garbage

dealing with japanese garbage while living in japanAfter your first weeks in Japan, you’ll find taking out the trash isn’t the same as it was in your home country. Though your supervisor probably gave you a brochure outlining how to sort your garbage, you may need a little explanation to know exactly what goes where and why. Verity describes the complicated but necessary waste disposal procedure in Japan. And she even adds why, so you can know your sorting efforts make you a better person.

Read: Help with Japanese Trash Sorting

Setting up self-study: getting the most Japanese ability out of your time on JET

studying japanese while on the jet program

When you first arrive on JET, it can feel like you have all the time you’d ever need to study Japanese. But truthfully, months go by quickly. And those months can become a year even faster. So check out this guide to start your study early and start well. Japan, of course, is the best place to study Japanese. And if your regimen is set in place in the beginning, the short time you spend studying each day will build and you’ll end up with a greater level of fluency than you imagined.

Read: JET Program Japanese Study Regimen

How to Study Japanese at School and in the Community

practicing japanese with students on the jet program

Once you’ve studied at home, it’s time to take that knowledge and practice it in your daily life. The great thing about studying Japanese in Japan is you have incredible amounts of opportunities to reinforce what you learn. This guide piggybacks off the last one and takes your study regimen to the streets and to the classroom. Even though you’re teaching English, doesn’t mean you can’t learn a little Japanese.

Read: Practicing Japanese on JET Program

JET Program Survival Resources

going to the post office in japan on jet programThe challenges of JET life don’t end when school is out. Being foreign in Japan can throw you a curve ball no matter how long you’ve lived there. That said, it’s great to have some help. In researching these guides and articles, I dug into the JET Program blog world (I even jumped on a JET Program forum or two. Or twelve). I found a lot of sites made to help ALTs and foreigners in Japan. Whether you need help steering through bureaucracy or a way to order real bacon, this list of links should help you out.

Read: Helpful Resources for Surviving Life on JET

Staying Safe in Japan

safety in japan while on jet programJapan is a safe country, which is why people rarely take time to talk about safety in Japan. Bad things can happen, as they can anywhere else. Crime and accidents exist in Japan too. But because people feel so safe in Japan, it can make them extra vulnerable. Rich talks safety and alertness in a place we often feel it’s okay to leave our front door unlocked.

Read: Safety in Japan

ALT Work and Teaching

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

how to teach the jet program self intro classMost JETs arrive in Japan in August. This means the first weeks of their job are during summer vacation. That means going to work and waiting for classes to start. Though this may seem like a bore, it’s actually valuable time you need to prepare for your first class. Verity’s article on the self-introduction covers both the classroom version and the real life variety. You’ll naturally be meeting a lot of new coworkers and people. So read this article to learn how to introduce yourself to individuals and a classroom full of students.

Read: JET Program Self-Introduction Lesson Help

Surviving Sports Festival

guide to sports festival on jet programSoon after your first classes begin, the hot summer sun ushers in Sports Festival. Akin to a field day, Sports Festival is an important part of school life and educational tradition. This article by Rich introduces us to the concepts and history behind Sports Festival, as well as a ton of helpful tips for beating the heat, connecting with students, and making the most out of this exciting day.

Read: JET Program Sports Festival Tips

HELP! I Don’t Know How to ALT

the basics of being an alt on the jet programAfter a few weeks of teaching you may realize you don’t know how to ALT. Team teaching is a unique situation which requires flexibility and thinking differently about education. Thankfully, Verity wrote this primer for teaching English in Japan. If you put into practice everything written in this article, you’ll gain your footing as an ALT and take your first steps toward teaching greatness.

Read: JET Program Teaching Ideas

How to Spice up Your ALT Lessons with the Nine Intelligences!

the nine intelligences theory used for teaching english on jet programWhen you’ve got your ALT sea legs, it’s time to add a little teaching paprika to your lessons. Rich introduces the concept of the Nine Intelligences, an idea put forth by Howard Gardner. Applying it to teaching English in Japan, you get a whole new strategy for engaging students and getting better results from your efforts in the classroom.

Read: JET Program Student Motivation Tips

What To Do When You’re Placed in a Bad School

what to do in a difficult school on jet programSometimes a JET’s placement can be less than ideal. Mine was. In the beginning I let it affect my life and my ability to teach. But over time, I learned a few things about myself, Japan, and the school I worked at. I discovered a few strategies that helped me make the best of a tough situation. And now, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Read: JET Program Difficulty and How to Handle It

The Best Teaching Resources for Superstar JET Program ALTs

teaching an english class on the jet programNo ALT is an island. Every English teacher in Japan can benefit fromthe wisdom, work, and know-how of their peers and teachers who went before them. I scoured the internet and found the best resources for JETs, ALTs, and ESL teachers in Japan. Whether you’re getting started or have been instructing for years, these pages have something to improve your English teaching game and make class time just that little bit easier.

Read: Teaching and Classroom Resources for JET Program ALTs

20 Differences Between Japanese school and Western schools

getting along with students on the jet programSome of the biggest challenges for an ALT aren’t necessarily in the teaching itself. Differences in the way Japanese school operates compared to Western school can throw visiting ALTs for a loop. This article outlines 23 of the biggest difference between Japanese education and the one you grew up with (unless you grew up in Japanese school). Reading this can alleviate confusion and prepare you to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Read: Difference Between Japanese and Western Schools

An Interview with a JET Program Elementary ALT: Rebecca Rhumann

This three-part series gives a bird’s eye view of the JET Program ALT experience. Tofugu interviewed three teachers, one Elementary, one Junior High, and one High School, to get a sampling of ALT work and life in each type of school.

This first interview with Rebecca Rhumann explores the high energy world of young children and genki English lessons in Japan.

Read: Coming Soon

An Interview with a JET Program Junior High ALT: Matt Krzyzynski

Part two of the ALT interview series takes a peek at the life of Matt Krzyzynski and his experience teaching several schools of junior high kids in rural Japan. Coincidentally, he was in the school with the lowest performing test scores in the lowest performing city in the lowest performing prefecture. So his advice and attitude towards the job have a lot to teach JET ALTs in any situation.

Read: Coming Soon

An Interview with a JET Program High School ALT: Kelsey Wahl

The third and final part explores the up-and-down, non-standard world of Japanese High School. Kelsey Wahl takes us through her ALT life and the challenges and triumphs she faced with students getting ready for college entrance exams.

Read: Coming Soon

An Interview with a Japanese Teacher of English: Yoko Kawai

An ALT doesn’t work alone. That’s why the A stands for assistant. The ALT’s other half is the JTE, or Japanese Teacher of English. An ALT usually has between 3 and 9 JTEs at a given school, each with their own curriculum, teaching style, and personality. Trying to navigate this critical relationship is one of the most important parts of being a JET.

Tofugu reached out to a JTE who has worked with six ALTs. Though every JTE is different, this interview will help you see a side of Japanese teachers you may not have seen before. If you’re having trouble connecting with a JTE or two, check out this interview for some understanding and tips on making the situation better.

Read: Coming Soon

Finishing the JET Program

Deciding Whether or Not to Recontract for Another Year on the JET Program

The JET Program can last a maximum of five years. Even so, it may be best for you to leave after two, three, or four years. This is a tough personal decision and one you’ll be forced to make every year between November and February. Sometimes you’ll know the right choice right away. Other times, you may feel pulled in both directions.

This guide gives a series of steps to take and questions to ask yourself so you can feel more confident in your decision to stay or go.

Read: Coming Soon

Leaving the JET Program: Closing Down Your Life in Japan

Whether you decide to go home or reach the end of year five, the JET Program will end for you. And that means a lot of paperwork, wrap-up, and goodbyes. In many ways, there’s more to do than when you went on JET.

This guide covers about everything you’ll need to know to get your JET life closed down and tie up all the loose ends.

Read: Coming Soon

Disposing of, Selling, or Giving Away Your Car in Japan

If you had a car during your time on JET, it has to go somewhere (unless you’re super rich and can ship it home). Throwing it in a ravine won’t do. You’ll need to sell your car, give it away, or dispose of it. Each of these processes is a lot of paperwork. But if you follow this step-by-step guide, you can’t go wrong (probably).

Read: Coming Soon

Renewing Your Visa! So You Can Leave Japan…

If you are a third year JET and not recontracting, you need to renew your visa before you leave Japan. All JETs get a three year instructor visa which is set to expire mere weeks before most JETs leave the country. If you try to leave the country with an expired visa, you’ll likely be penalized and may not be allowed to return to Japan again. Ever.

Go through the extra steps and fill out the right paperwork to make sure you can one day revisit your second home.

Read: Coming Soon

Applying for Your Pension Refund After JET

One of the biggest hassles (and biggest rewards) of leaving JET is the pension refund. All JETs pay into Japan’s national pension, but few live in Japan long enough to retire and collect it. That’s why the Japanese government kindly allows you to apply for a refund. And it’s a good deal of money.

This takes a lot of preparation before you leave and a lot of paperwork and patience after you return to your home country. Follow this guide to make sure the Japanese government doesn’t hold onto the massive chunk of change which is rightfully yours.

Read: Coming Soon

Life After the JET Program

Reverse Culture Shock After Returning from the JET Program

You’re back at home. Or perhaps you moved somewhere else. Either way, you’re not in Japan anymore. The country and culture you came to call home is far away. Though you’re back in your “natural” environment, home might seem as foreign to you as Japan once did. Why is this happening? Here’s a hint: your home country didn’t change. You did.

Read: Coming Soon

Finding a Job after JET: An Interview with JETAA President Jeffrey Houser

After you’ve adjusted to your new old home, it’s time to get to work. Finding a job is always a major challenge. It’s even more daunting when you’ve been away for several years and employers don’t see the value of your international experience.

JET Alumni Association President Jeffrey Houser went through this exact experience when he returned to the U.S. from rural Wakayama. Though he struggled in the beginning, Jeffrey developed job searching strategies every JET should know. He successfully changed fields from education to business by networking and convincing employers he had the skills to get the job done.

Post-JET job seekers, don’t miss this interview with a successful guy who’s been in your shoes and can give you the job searching edge you need.

Read: Coming Soon

Learn more about JET:

kaihou souko recycle shop japan header

Kaihou Souko: The Massive Japanese Secondhand Warehouse

All right you manga nerds, listen up. Game nerds – You’re gonna wanna hear this, too. Actually, anime nerds, figure collecting nerds, music nerds, every kind of nerd, you should probably pay attention.

Okay, how about this. If you’re a nerd in any way, you’ll want to visit this place. May I present, Kaihou Souko, the gigantic Japanese second-hand shop.

Welcome to the Giant Otaku Store in Japan

kaihou souko used manga 1 otaku store in japan

kaiho souko used manga 2 otaku store in japan

This place isn’t tough to locate. If you can spot these creepy green sphinxes, you’ll find Kaihou Souko. In English, Kaihou Souko means “open storehouse.” And that’s exactly what this place is – A big, open thrift store.

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Once you pass through the arched doorway, these Egyptian sarcophaguses welcome you in, as well as…

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…a Gundam and a topless sphinx.

I’m not sure if they are for sale or not, but…

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This huge camel statue was definitely for sale. It was going for 300,000 yen (about $3000). Oh, I forgot to mention desert memorabilia nerds. You’re gonna like it here, too.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan vending machine otaku store in japan

Before you step inside, why not a cold drink? You’ll need your sugar to energize you through the maze of wonderment.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan capsule toy machines otaku store in japan

One more thing. Try your hand at some capsule toy machines. Why choose exactly the nerdery you want when you can be assigned some at random?

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But enough of the entryway. Let’s enter and…great Tezuka’s ghost! There is definitely something here for every nerdy niche.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan figures and toys otaku store in japan

I hope you weren’t planning on putting your kids through college.

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The floorspace is absolutely filled with racks covered with gadgets and gizmos and thingamabobs. And Pokemon cards.

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Manga and anime fans will have no shortage of things to buy. Complete sets of One Piece, anyone?

kaihou souko recycle shop japan complets manga sets

Or complete sets of any manga for that matter. Great Japanese practice for any level.

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Don’t forget to wear clothes. Kaihou Souko’s got you covered (literally).

kaihou souko recycle shop japan eyeglasses and hats otaku store in japan

How about some shades and a hat? Don’t forget to wear the hat backward for extra coolness.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan purses otaku store in japan

You’ll definitely need a purse to hold your empty wallet.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan gundam models otaku store in japan

You can buy and build your own miniature plastic robot army. There are tons of Gundam and mecha robot models to be had.

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If you’re tired of nerdy things, why not just things? As in, things you didn’t know you wanted, but you do as soon as you see them. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need a pink rubber kitty and/or a poodle statue.

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For those lazy days spent strumming a guitar as you wait for the fish to bite, Kaihou Souko can also get you ready for the strumming and the biting.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan saxophone otaku store in japan

Of course, playing the saxophone while fishing will attract more fish. Everyone knows fish can’t resist smooth jazz.

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Katanas and air soft guns for your live action anime fan film (we know you’ve got that Spike/Vicious church battle storyboarded).

kaihou souko recycle shop japan guns otaku store in japan

After that last picture, I’m sure you were worried that Kaihou Souko only carried airsoft rifles. Don’t worry. There are plenty of concealable non-lethal weapons that look exactly like lethal weapons.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan big statues otaku store in japan

Anime and game figures big and small line the shelves.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan blind box one piece otaku store in japan

If you can’t afford the big box sized figs, there are repackaged mini figures and blind boxes, as well.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan dragon ball figures otaku store in japan

kaihou souko recycle shop japan toys street fighter final fantasy otaku store in japan

Of course, the really good stuff is behind glass. Darn you, glass! Always separating me from the things I love. This is the deli case bacon incident all over again…

kaihou souko recycle shop japan super mario nintendo display otaku store in japan

Finally, it’s time to get your game on. Mario welcomes you to the game section if you have any money left.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan retro games otaku store in japan

Retro games on the cheap. Get ’em while they’re old!

kaihou souko recycle shop japan famicom yoshi otaku store in japan

Famicom (NES) games in a colorful row.

kaihou souko recycle shop japan super famicom final fantasy 5 otaku store in japan

Super Famicom (SNES) games too. Only ¥500 for Final Fantasy V. What a deal!

kaihou souko recycle shop japan super mario pokemon games otaku store in japan

Even games from popular series aren’t that expensive. Compare these prices to the U.S. versions’ and be sad.

otaku store in japan sell

Since you can buy basically anything here, you can also sell anything, too. Just walk up to this booth and plop it down. I asked a staff member how many different things they have in their inventory, but he said, “We don’t count, so we’re not sure.”

kaiho souko used manga otaku store in japan dog

Maybe the employees don’t care, but this handsome dog is keeping his eye on you. So do not shoplift, or else he’ll come to life and bite you. True story.

Kaihou Souko Rating

  • Uniqueness: 8/10 – It’s a very unique place, but I think they could be even more unique if they put a little thought into their organization, so I rated it an 8.
  • Fun: 7/10 – There are a ridiculous number of things here and it’s fun to look at them, but that’s it. I wanted them to put up some more interesting displays for us to enjoy while we walked around, so I rated it a 7.
  • Accessibility: 7/10 – It’s a 10 to 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Yamatoyagi station, which is a mid-sized train station.
  • Overall: 6/10 – It was a unique place, but I’m not sure if I would go back there. You may like it (especially if you’re a nerd), so I recommend you go there at least once.


Rating: 6/10

Kaihou Souko Access

  • Address: 888-5 Toichicho, Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture 634-0008
  • Phone: +81 744-29-3760

Other Kaihou Souko Locations

  • Address: Hataoka-40-1 Yamashirochō Tsubai, Kizugawa-shi, Kyōto-fu 619-0205
  • Address: 120-1 Taka, Kashiba, Nara Prefecture 639-0241
  • Address: 1429 Godo, Maibara, Shiga Prefecture 521-0072
  • Address: 413-1 Kannabechō Ōaza Kawaminami, Fukuyama-shi, Hiroshima-ken 720-2124
  • Address: 2921-8 Yomicho, Yonago, Tottori Prefecture 683-0851
  • Address: 223 Yasunaga, Tottori-shi, Tottori-ken 680-0913
  • Address: 227-1 Kaminoshō, Sakurai-shi, Nara-ken 633-0061