Category: Japanese Culture

How to Use a Japanese Onsen

How to Use a Japanese Onsen

Japan has a unique culture and heritage. Whether you are learning Japanese or heading to Japan for a vacation, there are lots of experiences to try as a visitor. One of these is the onsen or bathing in natural springs. Here’s how to bathe Japanese-style.

Find Your Onsen

An onsen is a natural hot spring with water temperatures at 25 degrees Celsius or above. They have at least one of 19 defined minerals within the water. There are over 2,300 onsen all over Japan. Some are within resorts and hotels, whereas others are located within natural spring areas. There are many places to choose from and with a little research, you’ll find one suitable. Do check the male and female opening hours, as some onsen have separate times for men and women.

Understand the Culture

In Japan, an onsen is taken completely nude. This is part of the heritage of the country and has been in existence since the eighth century. It is a great way to get an insight into Japanese culture. Do some research before you go to understand how the onsen operate, as many do not speak English. That’s also a good reason for taking the time to learn Japanese online.

Learn the Etiquette

Japanese onsen have several rules and traditions. Understanding them will help you have a positive experience and avoid offending anyone. When you go to the onsen changing room, look for the blue kanji sign for men or the red one for women. You will need to undress completely and put your belongings in a locker or basket. If you have soap and toiletries, take them with you to the next stage.

In the shower area, find a place by the showers. You will be given a plastic stool and a bowl. It is considered bad manners to sit where someone else has left their belongings, even if they are not there. You’ll need to wash and ensure you are thoroughly clean before heading to the bath area itself. Make sure you tidy after yourself and wash down the stool. Tattoos are frowned upon in Japan, as they are connected with gangs and crime. Some people with large tattoos may be refused entry to an onsen. An alternative is to find an inn with a kashikiriburo, or private bath, where you can bathe and not offend anyone with your tattoos.

Get Into the Onsen

One of the most important things to remember is that the water temperature in an Onsen is hot and can be up to 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Some places have several baths where the temperature varies so you can start with a cooler one. Be careful when getting into the bath itself as it is hot, so take it slowly. Do not jump into the onsen, splash others or swim — this is taboo. You will have been given a (very small) towel in the changing area. This must be kept out of the water. Some people fold and place the towel on their heads to keep cool. If the towel slips into the water, wring it outside the bath. Do not put your face in the water. The heat and some minerals in the water could be harmful if they get in your eyes. Talking loudly is not acceptable in an onsen, so if you plan to practice some Japanese words, be aware that most people will appreciate a greeting but not a long conversation in the bath. If they speak to you, then you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to speak some Japanese.

When you have finished in the onsen, wipe away any excess water or sweat as best you can with that small towel before going back in the changing area. Once you have dressed, you may find some onsen have areas where you can relax with a drink to complete your experience.

Images via Pixabay

Puroresu: Japan’s Weird World Of Wrestling

Mention “wrestling” and “Japan” and many people will think of sumo. However, the country is also crazy for professional wrestling, the strange mix of sport and entertainment that millions enjoy.

What to Watch

Pro wrestling is one of the most versatile forms of entertainment, and no matter your interest you may find something in Japan that’s to your taste. If you like the combat of mixed martial arts — but with a guarantee of excitement — watch the Hard Hit promotion. If you like gymnastics, try the high-flying world of Dragon Gate. If spectacular stunt shows are to your taste — and you aren’t put off by a violent display — then Big Japan Pro Wrestling could be for you. Fans of physical comedy should take a look at the Dramatic Dream Team promotion. And if you want everything together in one package, New Japan Pro Wrestling is the major leagues where you’ll see some of the best in the world at performing this athletic drama.

Where to Watch

While most towns and cities get touring shows, and a few even have their own promotions, Tokyo is truly wrestling central. Korakuen Hall in Suidobashi is the home of wrestling, with shows almost every night from different promotions. You can buy tickets in advance from the fifth-floor box office or get them on the day of the show at a ground floor window. While some shows sell out, you can always queue for standing room tickets on the day.

Right next door, the Tokyo Dome hosts an extravaganza on January 4 every year named Wrestle Kingdom: In 2018, an estimated 2,000 Westerners made the voyage to see the event in person.

Other venues hosting big shows include Ryogoku Kokugikan (where sumo tournaments also take place) and Budokan Hall. For a more intimate experience, check out Shink-Kiba 1st Ring in Koto or Shinjuku Face in the Humax Pavilion Shinjuku building, both of which are used by smaller promotions.

What to Expect

Crowds at Japanese venues vary, but in some cases, they’ll be quieter than you expect because they are paying close attention to the action. In other cases, they’ll cheer the heroes, boo the villains and get caught up in the drama of the performance. Shows are often convenient to attend, usually starting around 6:30 p.m. and finishing by 9:00-9:30 p.m., giving you time to check out the local nightlife afterward. Most venues let you bring your own food and drink, while some sell beer and snacks.


Pro wrestling is known as “Puroresu,” which is simply a shortened version of the Japanese pronunciation of the English term “professional wrestling.” Shows featuring an all-female lineup are known as “joshi” events, short for “joshi puroresu” (or woman pro wrestling.)

When buying tickets, you’ll normally want to ask for a “shiteiseki,” which means “reserved seat.” This means you get a specific seat and don’t need to worry about working out where you can and can’t sit. If you have trouble finding your seat, you can show an attendant or another spectator your ticket and ask “doku desu ka,” which means “where is this [seat]?”

Most venues are laid out with the seating blocks listed as north, south, east and west. While the signs for these are usually listed in English, the tickets themselves may only use the kanji characters, so they are worth learning.

While watching a match, you’ll often hear the ring announcer say a phrase like “go-bun” or “ju-bun,” which means that five minutes or 10 minutes, respectively, have gone by in the match. (Matches usually have a 30-minute limit, but it can be 60 minutes for a championship bout.) When wrestlers fight outside the ring, they have a count of 20 to get back in, though this is usually made in English.

Header image via PixaBay

What is the Buddhist Swastika in Japan?

If you’ve been to an East Asian country, you’ve probably seen a swastika and thought, WHAT THE #$@& IS THAT DOING HERE? Well first of all, watch your language. But second of all, you should know that it’s not at all what you think. The word for this Buddhist swastika symbol in Japan is manji (まんじ)

manji swastika


Japanese Etiquette DOs and DON’Ts

Everyone knows that manners and etiquette can vary greatly from one country to the next, but some countries take their social standards much more seriously than others. Well, Japan is one of those countries. Almost everyone knows that you should bow in Japan instead of shake hands, but what other manners in Japan do you need to know? Use this list to learn important Japanese etiquette tips and make sure you don’t embarrass yourself on your next trip to Tokyo!


Do They Celebrate Halloween in Japan?

Yes, they do!

Halloween is almost upon us, but what exactly does that mean in Japan? Though Halloween is a decidedly American holiday more and more countries around the world are beginning to celebrate it in their own ways, and Japan is no exception. While it’s still not the national festival-for-all-ages that it is in America, you can find your share of parades, costume parties, and events.
Halloween in Japan first gained popularity when Tokyo Disneyland started holding Halloween events in the late 90s. Those events have continued ever since and have expanded across the whole country.

SO what exactly do they do for Halloween in Japan?

Japanese Sayings about Autumn (秋, aki)

Every culture has many different sayings that don’t always make sense when translated. Think about, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” Or, “This dinner costs an arm and a leg!” Japanese is no exception. Here we’ve put together a collection of Japanese sayings and proverbs that all talk about autumn. Some use it literally, while others have figurative meanings. Have you come across any of these before?

Aki no ougi

It is the time when summer warmth is completely gone from the air so grab your coat and put that fan away!
秋の扇 (aki no ougi) The autumn fan is no longer needed.


Silver Week in Japan

This week marked a relatively rare phenomenon: Silver Week in Japan. Silver week (シルバーウィーク, Shirubā Wīku) occurs every few years when several holidays happen to align, giving the Japanese a chance for a whole week of vacation. This week was the first Silver Week since 2009 and the next one won’t occur until 2026!

The holidays are:

Respect for the Aged Day (敬老の日, Keirō no Hi)

– The third Monday of September (September 21, 2015)

Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日, Shūbun no Hi)

– September 23rd, 2015

Kokumin no kyujitsu (国民の休日)

– Any day that falls between two holidays


Because Monday was 敬老の日 and Wednesday was 秋分の日 that means Tuesday was 国民の休日! In Japan you never have to go to work if two holidays are only separated by a single day. This means you could take a vacation from the 19th to the 23rd! I don’t know about you, but I think more countries should implement this as a national policy.

So let’s talk about the two holidays that brought on this special silver week.

Respect for the Aged Day, or 敬老の日

Is exactly what it sounds like. It is a holiday to pay honor to elderly Japanese men and women around the country and celebrate their lives. Many neighborhoods will hold small festivals and performances to entertain the elderly and 弁当 (bento) are often distributed to show thanks.

Silver Week in Japan
敬老の日 Parade

Autumnal Equinox Day

Is also an important holiday in Japan. The period surrounding the spring and fall equinoxes is known as 彼岸 (higan). There is a saying in Japan, 暑さ寒さも彼岸まで (Atsusa samusa mo higan made) or “The heat and cold end with higan.” Higan technically begins three days before the equinox and ends three days after. It marks not only the changing of the seasons from summer to fall (or winter to spring in March, known as 春分の日 (Shunbun no hi)) but also a time to pay respect to the deceased. On this holiday you may travel with your family to visit the graves of ancestors who have passed. When you visit the grave you can bring offerings such as flowers and food and make sure the tombstone is clean. But don’t be too sad, higan is a time to celebrate the passing of your ancestors to nirvana, not to mourn their passing from this world.

Higan Flowers

With both higan and 敬老の日 falling this week, many Japanese had the chance to take a vacation. Many probably spent this time with their families, but surely some took the opportunity to travel abroad or visit a new place in Japan they’ve never been.

If you were in Japan for Silver Week, how did you spend your holiday?

Matahara and the Decline of the Japanese Birth Rate

Japan’s population is currently around 130 million people. That’s a pretty big number for a relatively small island nation. But by the year 2050, that number could shrink to as low at 97 million, according to some estimates.[1] In 2015, Japan’s birthrate fell to a record low for the fourth straight year in a row.[2] Women are having fewer babies across the country and the Japanese government is desperate to reverse this trend. Obviously, in order to do this, the birthrate needs to be increased. But how low is the Japanese birth rate, really?

The average number of children born to one Japanese woman is 1.43. Japan needs to reach 2.07-2.08 just to maintain their current population levels. Reasons cited for these rates, which have been declining almost steadily since after WWII, are the rising cost of child care, the increase of women in the workforce, the age of marriage getting pushed back, and changes in social customs. These issues are all certainly contributing to the problem. But is there another, darker, reason why Japanese women aren’t giving birth?

Japanese Birth Rate Decline
Tokyo Disney; Image via Flickr

Like many countries around the world, women’s issues in the workplace have stirred up controversy of late. In America, there has been recent debate over the lack of mandatory paid maternity leave. While Japan does offer paid maternity (or paternity) leave, it may not always be so easy for women to take advantage of it. More often than not women are “encouraged” to quit their jobs if they want to pursue motherhood, rather than try to balance work and family life as so many women do around the world.

This issue was recently made famous by Sayaka Osakabe[3], who won the US State Department’s 2015 International Woman of Courage Award. After being denied a leave of absence and shorter working hours during her pregnancies (and suffering two stress-related miscarriages) Osakabe did finally quit her job under duress, and brought her company to the labor tribunal for “matahara” (マタハラ), a term she coined. It is a portmanteau of maternity and harassment, which has now become an official legal term.

Though Japanese law specifically bans demotion due to pregnancy, women continue to find themselves in these challenging situations. And in addition to worries about job security if they do become pregnant, many women simply work too much to even consider it. It seems in Japan most women have to choose between having a family and having a career, and an increasing number of women are choosing the latter. Of the women that do have a family, over 70% had to quit their jobs in order to do so.[4]

To make things more difficult, despite the fact that Japanese fathers are allowed to take paternity leave, less than 3% of them actually do. Many out of fear of losing their jobs or missing out on a promotion. According to a recent survey, more than 30% of men actually want to take child care leave. This has created a new name for these awesome dads: iku-men (イクメン or 育メン). The kanji, , means raising or child rearing, so as you can see it’s becoming increasingly trendy for men to want an active part in raising their children. But sadly, that doesn’t make it a reality. While husbands in Sweden, Germany, and the US spend three hours a day on average helping out with household chores and childcare, in Japan it’s only one hour. And the average time a father spends with their children is just 15 minutes a day.

It’s no wonder that so many women in Japan are overwhelmed at the prospect of starting a family. Hopefully, Osakabe’s website and support group, MataharaNet, will help bring these issues to light and give more women the confidence to confront the harassment they’ve faced in the workplace. In the meantime, Japan’s economy is facing a real pressure to replace the generations of earners that are quickly moving into retirement. And as long as women are postponing starting a family, or forgoing it altogether, there won’t be a younger generation there to take their place.



The Best Cherry Blossom Festivals Around the World

While cherry blossoms (さくら, sakura) are recognized around the world as a symbol of Japan, Japan isn’t the only country that celebrates their ephemeral blooming. With cherry blossom festival season in full swing, the beautiful blooms will last only for only a few weeks before falling to the ground and remaining bare for another year. In Japan, cherry tree viewing is known as 花見 (hanami), which literally translates to (more…)