Category: Japanese Culture


Ways To Say Hello in Japanese

Introduction

One of the first few phrases anyone learns when picking up a new language is how to say hello. It’s the simplest greeting, or aisatsu (挨拶) in Japanese, and also sort of mandatory to know — or at least people assume you would know. 

I believe that there are more ways than one to greet someone — like in English, “hello” comes in various forms. Similarly in Japanese, you get to take your pick on which greeting you want to use. The only difference is that, while most of English greetings are flexible and can be used for almost any situation, Japanese greetings can be more specific to the setting.

It’s also best to note the significance of social status even in greeting forms. In Japanese culture, where you rank on the social status scale can affect how you speak to another. 

Let’s take a look at the top ways to say hello!

1. Konnichiwa (こんにちは)

Source: Flickr

The most basic form of greeting in Japanese is “konnichiwa” (こんにちは). Anyone who has ever picked up a Japanese textbook, or have roamed the streets of Japan, would be familiar with this phrase. It’s probably the first few phrases in Japanese a lot of people pick up. 

“Konnichiwa” can be both formal and informal. You’ll hear street vendors and salespeople greeting passersby to get their attention by calling out “konnichiwa”. This greeting can also be used when you first meet someone. 

Some people say “konnichiwa” can’t be used casually, but in my opinion, there is no wrong to that. You can definitely use this greeting to say hello to your friends and family — but it can be considered unusual since this phrase is perceived as somewhat semi-formal, so speaking to your family or friends in that tone might be odd. 

“Konnichiwa” can also mean “good afternoon”, so when you pass by a colleague at the office, a simple greeting like this with a nod is appropriate. 

2. Hisashiburi (久しぶり) 

The second greeting phrase is “hisashiburi” (久しぶり). This is quite different from “konnichiwa” — while you can use konnichiwa to greet someone at any time, “hisashiburi” is used to greet someone you have not seen in a long time. 

A long time can be subjective, though. Some can feel like a few months is long, while others may think a week is long as well. To me, it depends on who the person is — do I usually see them more than once or twice a week, or is it normal to see them once every few months?

Anyway, if you, personally, feel like it’s been quite some time since you saw your good friend, greet them with “hisashiburi!” to mean “it’s been a while!” It’s kind of like saying, “long time no see!”

You can use it casually and also politely — with the latter, there has to be a few adjustments. The polite form is “ohisashiburidesu” (お久しぶりです). This form of the phrase can be said to someone of higher status or people you are not so familiar with. 

3. Ya-ho (ヤッホー)

If you want to take it super casual when greeting someone, use this: “ya-ho” (ヤッホー). Some people say that it’s a feminine greeting, but I have friends — both guys and girls — greeting me using this. I feel like it has a more playful tone than anything, on top of a sense of familiarity. 

It’s quite similar to saying “yoohoo!” to grab someone’s attention. “Ya-ho” is a great greeting for someone you’re close with — say, your best friends or classmates. I would avoid using this anywhere in a formal setting like at work and the office.

4. Ya- (やあ)

Another casual hello to use to greet your friends is “ya-” (やあ). It’s kind of like the “hey!” in Japanese. It’s a simple and effective way to grab someone’s attention. It’s usually followed by the name of the person you’re greeting.

For example, your friend Haru is walking ahead of you and you want him to turn around and say hi. Call out, “やあ、はるちゃん!” (Ya-, Haru-chan!)

Alternatively, you can even omit the “ya-” completely and just greet them by calling out just their names. 

5. Osu (おす)

Here’s one for the guys: “osu” (おす). This is a slang greeting for guys to greet other guys. Usually, when they pass by each other or approaching one another, they’ll have a hand raised up or a nod to accompany the greeting.

Girls don’t usually say this, but I have a couple of friends who use it to greet their guy friends. Guys wouldn’t say it to girls, and girls wouldn’t say it to other girls either. I guess as long as the receiving end is a guy, it’s probably a safe bet.

Unlike “ya-” and “ya-ho”, “osu” is used when you already have someone’s attention rather than getting it. You don’t usually have their names followed after the greeting — you can if you want to.

6. Yo- (よー)

There’s nothing complicated about this greeting. “Yo-” (よー) is simply “yo!” in Japanese. Say it to your friends or schoolmates, but I don’t recommend using it to anyone older than you — especially your boss. Maybe colleagues would be fine, but only if you’re familiar with them and not total strangers. 

“Yo-” does have a bit of masculine tone to it, but that doesn’t mean girls can’t and don’t use it, too — just like how “yo” in English is used. I’d like to think that “yo” has a cooler vibe to it; maybe it’s the same in Japanese.

Some guys switch it out for “o-i” (おーい) for more of an exclamation and grabbing one’s attention. It can be considered rude, so use it only with people you’re comfortable with so as to not offend anyone accidentally.

7. Moshi moshi (もしもし)

In English, we usually say “hello” when we pick up a call on the phone. In Japanese, while it is somewhat okay to say “konnichiwa” when picking up the phone, it’s way more common to go with the phonecall hello, and that is “moshi moshi” (もしもし). This phrase comes from the verb mousu (申す) to mean “to say”.

This way of saying hello is usually only for phonecalls from friends and family. In any business situation — for example, if your client or boss calls you — don’t use “moshi moshi”. Instead, say “hai” (はい) which translates to “yes?”, like how we sometimes answer in English for phonecalls as well.

8. Genki? (元気?)

Last but not least, this way of saying hello is more of a “how are you”. “Genki?” (元気?) quite literally is asking someone if they are healthy or not, as the word “genki” mean “health”. You don’t say it every time you see someone — if you saw the person you’re going to see today, you won’t ask them “how are you”. It’s, in a way, similar to “hisashiburi” since you’ll only use this form of greeting after a period of time.

If it’s been quite a while, changing it to the past tense is better: “genki datta?” (元気だった?) It translates to, “have you been well?” or “how have you been?”

In the casual form, you can use it to friends, family and colleagues of the same social status, but if you want to greet someone of a higher social status, switch it to the polite form that is, “o genki desu ka?” (お元気ですか?)

Another way of asking someone how they have been is by using this phrase: “ikagadesuka?” (いかがですか?) It has a more formal tone — even more than the polite form of “genki?”. Usually, you use this to greet the higher-ups and asking how something specific is going rather than their general condition.

An example is asking your university pal how his new job is going: “shigoto wa ikaga desu ka?” (仕事はいかがですか?) This translates to, “how’s work going?”

Conclusion 

There are way more ways of greeting someone in Japanese, but these are the best ways to start you off depending on the various situations and familiarity level. Learning simple phrases for greetings is a great way to get yourself comfortable with the language while expanding your vocabulary! So, switch up your “konnichiwa” to a “ya-ho” the next time you see your good pal!

Complimenting in Japanese

Introduction

The road to flattery is basically customary in Japan. In every aspect — from friendship to business — it is especially important to give compliments here and there, whenever and wherever you can. The Japanese are known for their politeness; if anything, the compliments are just part and parcel of their nature.

When travelling or living a foreign country, especially one as unique and special like Japan, the best thing one can do is dive straight into getting a hang of the local ropes. Why not start off on the right foot with nailing down the complimenting culture in Japan?

Complimenting in Japanese Culture

The Japanese word to praising someone or giving compliments is homeru (褒める). Compliments can come in all shapes, sizes and forms — everything from praising the act to the person itself. For some of us who come from cultures where compliments are taken as a romantic gesture or someone with an ulterior motive, we might be surprised that the Japanese give them out generously. Well, that’s the Japanese for you: generous.

For the Japanese, it’s pretty simple; you don’t have to give compliments at all, but it doesn’t hurt to give them either. They are not tools to build good relationships with people — whether it is for business or personal — even though it can help. The Japanese give compliments genuinely and without malicious intent; they’re all pure-heartedly given.

Everyone loves being praised and getting compliments. If you think someone’s shoes are pretty or they have done something nice to you, why only say “thank you” when it takes less than five seconds to attach a compliment after? It makes your day better, it gives the air a gash of positivity and it sheds a good light on the person giving the compliment — win-win-win! 

Let’s take a look at the various ways you can give compliments and the best phrases that you can use for such situations.

 

Complimenting People

Complimenting people is probably the most common compliment category — and the most important, in my opinion. You meet people on a regular and daily basis. They are the easiest kinds of compliments to give; these are the ones that can just come out of your mouth without thinking!

For the Japanese, complimenting one another is mutually understood. Some of them can burst out compliments without thinking they wanted to; they come so naturally to them! Let’s take a look at the best compliments to give to people in Japanese.

かわいい !(Kawaii!)

The most popular, well-known and common compliment to give to people is, of course, “kawaii” (かわいい). This translates to “cute” but it’s used for almost everything — things, actions and people. Most of the time, this compliment is used for anything that has some sort of lovable charm. 

Some of us have the idea that cute is the image of someone that is feminine, adorable and endearing — we use the English word “cute” that way. In Japan, the cute word “kawaii” is not limited to that. It’s such a generic word that it can be used like “pretty” or “beautiful”. 

Isn’t the flexibility of the usage of the word great?

かっこいい!(Kakkoii!)

While you can compliment a boy or man “kawaii”, it does have a feminine note to the word. If you’re looking to praise a guy’s looks because he is handsome or attractive, the best compliment you can give them is “kakkoii” (かっこいい) which means “cool”. But you don’t really use it the way the English word “cool” is used. While in some situations you can, kakkoii is usually used to compliment someone’s form or looks. 

If someone looks like they’re well put-together, polished and refined, go up to them and compliment them with a “kakkoii”. It can also be used to mean “handsome” — more or less, it has the same nuance. 

If you watch anime, Japanese shows or movies, you would definitely have heard this compliment one way or the other. The most common one would definitely be a group of girls squealing “kakkoii” when talking about an attractive and cool guy.

優しい (Yasashi)

The first two compliments are more about what’s on the outside; this one is more about what’s on the inside. When someone is generally a compassionate and considerate person, say to them “yasashi” (優しい) which means “kind”. 

This compliment has the same nuance as the English compliment “you’re so nice”, but with ten times the genuine factor. Some people don’t like being called the “nice guy” or “nice girl” because of the saying, “nice guys finish last”. Well, it’s completely different from “yasashi” guys and girls; the English saying doesn’t apply.

似合ってる!(Niatteru)

This compliment is my personal favourite; nothing beats a compliment that says something perfectly matches me. “Niatteru” (似合ってる) comes from the word “niau” (似合う) which is used to express harmony, so by complimenting someone with “niatteru”, you’re saying that whatever that person has on them extremely suits them, so much that it’s practically made for them!

This compliment is often used for things like clothes and hairstyles. If your friend comes with a new haircut or a fresh new suit and it looks extremely good on them, give them a “niatteru” compliment — it’ll definitely make their day!

Complimenting Acts & Works

On to the next section on complimenting, and that’s how to compliment someone’s actions and works. It can be any type of action — whether it is to you directly or just in general, it doesn’t matter. 

If you have done a great job on something like a presentation at your job or a sports match, it will feel even better if you got praised for them. Why not be the one that gives these praises? Who knows, you might get some in return the next time! After all, what goes around comes around.

上手!(Jouzu!)

This is the best compliment you can give to anyone when it comes to their work or actions. “Jouzu” (上手) has the meaning of “skillful”. If you’re a foreigner and speak to a Japanese person in Japanese language, there’s almost a 100% probability of them complimenting you with “Nihongo wa jouzu desu!” (日本語は上手です!), which means that your Japanese is very good.

Other times you can use this compliment is whenever a technique or action showed is presented perfectly or excellently. It can also be used to describe a person directly as well.

頑張ってるね (Ganbatterune)

After a long day of working so hard that you’re on the brink of exhaustion, what better way to get your spirits back up than a compliment that recognised your efforts?

If you’re meeting some friends after work or at the office with some colleagues, why not praise them with a “ganbatterune” (頑張ってるね) which translates to “you sure are working hard”. This compliment acknowledges the fact that the person is doing their very best despite the setbacks and problems. 

Compliment Phrases That Can Be Used For Anything & Everything!

Here’s a tip: there are a handful of compliment phrases that are so flexible, you can use them for almost anything! I personally use them all the time — every day, in fact. They’re extremely convenient and easy-to-give compliments that are great practice to get you on the complimenting culture in Japan. Let’s take a look at the top two.

いいね!(Iine!)

I have to say, this is the one compliment you’ll hear every day. “Iine” (いいね) translates to “that’s good” and is a simple yet powerful compliment. It can be used for anything from people themselves to their actions. It’s like the Instagram and Facebook “like” button!

If someone is describing a situation or experience and you think that is something that exceeded the standards of good, you can reply with “iine” — in that case, it’ll translate more to “that’s nice”.

すごい!(Sugoi!)

A level up from “iine” is “sugoi” (すごい) which means “amazing”. Similar to the previous one, you can use it to compliment people and actions — basically anything and everything. It’s like a super like button if there is one.

, it’s used to describe anything that’s extravagant and surprising. When someone told you a superb story or a situation where it’s positively unimaginable, you can go “sugoi!” — it’s like saying “that’s so amazing!” 

Returning Compliments

Now here’s the tricky part — what about the other end of the stick? If you got a compliment, what do you do? Simple: return the compliment. Receive compliments make you feel good, but returning them makes them also feel as good as you, so why not?

But how?

There are a few ways to reciprocate a compliment. It goes without saying that a thank you “arigato” (ありがとう) and maybe a small bow is the ultimate response, but you can definitely add a little extra. 

Be humble about it. A response like “sonna koto nai desu” (そんなことないです) is a good one; this translates to “that’s not true” or “I don’t think so”. 

Express your happiness for getting the flattery. “Ureshii desu” (嬉しいです) has the same meaning as “that made me happy”. It’s quite a normal response to compliments; sometimes even combined with the phrase for being humble (sonna koto nai desu). 

Of course, you can definitely compliment them back. If you received a “kawaii” or “kakkoii” compliment, respond with “anata koso!” (あなたこそ) or “anata mo!” (あなたも!)which has the connotation of “you too!” in English. 

Conclusion

By this point, you’re a complimenting master! It takes zero yen to be nice to someone — what better way to do that than giving out compliments wholeheartedly? It spread such a positive vibe from you, and everyone loves a vibrant and yasashii person. So go out there and spread the love — and compliments!

The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Business Etiquette

Introduction

If you think the business world is a whole other language, the world of Japanese business is a completely different universe. There’s this big jump from casual, everyday Japan to the formal work culture here; it’s a complete 180º.

If you’re planning to work in Japan, it’s not going to be anything like your holiday trip to The Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, it’s not even going to be like the business culture back in your home country. There is a strict Japanese business etiquette that is mutually understood by everyone in the industry, but no one is ever taught them — they just know.

By this point, you must be reconsidering entering the business world of Japan because you think it’s impossible to get the ropes of it all. Fear not, we have everything you need to know laid out right in front of you! Here’s your ultimate guide to Japanese business etiquette — the only one you’ll ever need to get your foot through the door of Japanese business.

The Japanese Business Etiquette: How It is A “Make It Or Break It”

As a newcomer to any business industry in the rest of the world, you might be given a free pass for a while as you get the hang of how everything runs. Although you still get that in Japan, there are just some things that strictly cannot be overlooked — newcomer or not. Because of that approach, the Japanese business etiquette is the basis of any business activities. It’s a “make it or break it”.

You can have top grades on your certificates with a shining resume, but if you break one of the business etiquette rules in Japan, you remain stagnant at your current career point. If you don’t abide by certain customs in the Japanese business world, no matter how impressive your work is, there’s no moving forward. It can sound scary but that’s basically how the Japanese do business. They are extremely strict and professional — an ideal balance of good and bad. 

The Unspoken Essential Rules of Japanese Business Etiquette

As mentioned before, the ins and outs of Japanese business etiquette aren’t taught in class. They’re something you should already know or pick up. If no one talks about these unspoken essential rules, one should be on the ball with observation and be on high alert at all times.

I’m here to lift that world of burden off your shoulders. From personal experience and extensive research, I’ve accumulated a list of these unspoken essential rules of the Japanese business etiquette for anyone and everyone who needs it. Let’s take a look at what they are.

It’s all about first impressions (and every other impression)

Just like anything else, the first impression matters. In fact, in Japanese business etiquette, it’s not only the first impression — it’s also every other impression. Your introduction is as strong as what you’re offering in the business exchange, so always come off perfect during your greetings.

The question is: handshake or bow? The answer is, either way is okay but just not at the same time. Traditionally, the Japanese would bow at a 45º angle as a common courtesy and respect for the other party, but in recent years, they have gotten accustomed to the Western ways of greeting, which is the handshake. A swift and simple handshake with only one hand is sufficient — avoid long ones and those using two hands that cups the other person’s hand.

Be aware of the hierarchy and seniority of the business partners you are meeting as it’s one of the most important elements in Japanese business etiquette. Greet the seniors and higher-ups first and direct your attention to them, all the while keeping in mind to interact with the others too.

The unofficial official dress code

I say “unofficial” because it’s not really a given — it’s what became the norm and now everyone just follows it. Of course, to any business meeting or event, there has to be formal attire as the official dress code; you don’t show up ina t-shirt and jeans. But the Japanese take a step up — the keyword here is “conservative”.

It’s pretty standard for the men — it’s usually business suits regardless of the season. The women, however, have a stricter dress code. Jewelry is kept at a minimum, including footwear — high heels aren’t recommended so as to not tower over their Japanese male counterparts. Women are encouraged to wear a suit as well, but both trousers and skirts are allowed. If you’re wearing a skirt, make sure it’s below knee level. Remember: conservative!

For both men and women, briefcases are the way to go. It adds the extra touch of professionalism and makes you look put-together and serious. Hair must be properly groomed or styled — long hairstyles for men can be perceived as untidy and messy; the women have it less strict, but many keep their hair pulled back in a ponytail for tidiness.

Business cards are talismans

Your business card is an extension of yourself, therefore it’s treated with the highest respect. Always have a business card — double-sided ones are the best. Business cards are taken extremely seriously in Japan, and exchanging them when meeting a new industry partner is essential and protocol. 

Expect to hand out quite a few cards during a business meeting. One thing to remember is to give a business card to the senior person first and go down the hierarchy line. It’s normal for us to hand our business cards with one hand, but in Japan, remember to hand it with both hands with the writing facing the person receiving it. 

Taking a business card from another is the same — receive it with both hands. It’s important to give it a proper read as soon as you receive it out of respect. It’s also a great opportunity to ask about name pronunciations and any other clarification you may need. Keep the business card out in front of you throughout the meeting; it’s considered rude to jam someone else’s business card into a back pocket or wallet in front of them. After all, it is an extension of them.

Prepare anything and everything in advance

If you have a meeting or presentation, take a chunk of time to prepare basically everything under the sun. Even if you’re presenting on a screen for everyone to see, have physical copies printed out for every person in the meeting — Japan is a paper-based culture and they appreciate having any document in its physical form. Sending the document in advance via e-mail is also recommended so they are able to review it in advance — especially if there’s anything to sign.

Don’t miss out on any detail during your presentation. Even if you don’t mention it, make sure it’s in the documents. The Japanese want every information, even if it seems unimportant to you. To bring their attention to certain things, highlight it or make it bigger in the documents to grab their attention.

If you’re presenting in English, it would be best to have a translated version in Japanese. Even if the people in the meeting can understand English well, it shows your efforts to accommodate them.

Be early to be on time

This is one essential rule to never break. Be on time — but in the Japanese business culture, to be on time is to be early. Being on time is being late. Always be at least fifteen minutes early to any meeting. Make sure you plan your route and transportation well in advance. Japan trains and crowds can get quite bad in the morning.

Formality in speech

In English, levels of speech is a clear cut between casual and formal. In Japanese, there are quite a few levels of formality to comprehend. However, the Japanese will understand if a foreigner is not so accustomed to them. But it will impress them if you learn a few formal suffixes and use them during your meeting.

The easiest is the -san (ーさん) suffix. This is the safest one to use. Attach it to the end of someone’s name — for example, if the person you’re meeting is called Yamamoto, refer to him as Yamamoto-san.

, remember to call a Japanese by their last name instead of their first unless they have explicitly asked you otherwise. It’s a straight-up no-no to refer to them by their first name.

Teamwork makes the dream work

The Japanese are strong on group-oriented culture. They value group solidarity over individualism and it’s best to take note of that when going into any business activities. There’s even a Japanese saying that goes, “a single arrow is easily broken but not ten in a bundle.” 

Demonstrate humility and give compliments to your team as a whole. Even though recognising individual contributions is important in other parts of the world, in Japan, it’s the opposite. Don’t single out any teammate as it would bring more embarrassment to the individual than any good.

The after-work is the actual work

The last but definitely not the least unspoken essential rule is definitely the after-work. Your work doesn’t end when the clock strikes 5 pm. In fact, it’s when it actually starts. A meeting can go from the tense and formal setting of a meeting room to the relaxed and casual atmosphere with the company of food and alcohol. 

Accept any invitation for a drink — it’s usually used as a way to connect to the person as a person rather than a business partner. It sets a lighter mood, but don’t forget to follow some business etiquette and respect. If you’re a light drinker, moderate your intake. You definitely do not want your potential business partner to see you passed out!

The Wrap-Up

Phew! That is a lot to digest, but every single one of them is definitely worth remembering. After all, these are just the essential rules — there are tons more in the book of Japanese business etiquette. They’re less common and more flexible, so as long as you abide by the ones mentioned above, you’re good to go!

Your Guide To Ordering Ramen Like A Local!

Introduction

What’s more Japanese than ramen (ラーメン)? It’s the ultimate essential in the Japanese culture and the most basic of all the Japanese cuisine. Having a bowl of piping hot ramen when you’re in Japan — regardless if it’s for a holiday or living here — is a rite of passage to your Japan experience.

Ramen shops are on every street in every corner; you can never have too many ramen shops in a neighbourhood. Even though they may look similar on the outside, the ramen they serve in each ramen shop is completely different from the next. Every one of them is unique to their own ramen cuisine.

As soon as you walk into one, you’ll realise that you’re faced with one of the two ways to order ramen — the convenient ramen vending machine or (sometimes a menu-less) ordering directly to the chef. Either way, you’ll be stuck and stumbling for at least a minute or two.

Don’t fret — we got you covered. Below is all you ever need to know about ordering ramen. Read on for your ultimate guide to float through the ordering process like a local!

The Ramen Culture in Japan

The ramen culture in Japan is ginormous. What can they say — the Japanese love their ramen! For them, it can be an any-meal kind of food. The different parts of a ramen bowl are just as important as the coherence of them with each other. Ramen chefs are so dedicated to their craft that they can spend years perfecting each ramen bowl section.

Generally, a ramen bowl consists of these things: the broth, noodles, meat and other toppings. Expert ramen chefs have their own in-store recipe for the various parts that can even be considered top-secret — it is their edge over the rest, after all. Preparation for a ramen bowl can begin from even the night before; that’s top dedication.

Some say that the noodles and broth are the parts that bring the ramen to exquisite taste but don’t underestimate the power of additional toppings. The main topping ingredient is the char siu (チャーシュ) , which is roasted pork. It can also be referred to as yaki buta (焼き豚). While it’s called roasted pork, some ramen shops use boiled pork instead. Menma (めんま) is also a topping that is essential in a ramen bowl. They are fermented bamboo shoots and are often seen on soy sauce-based ramen, but not limited to.

Other common toppings include aji-tama (味玉) which are flavoured half-boiled eggs, nori (のり, seaweed) and aonegi (青ネギ) which are green spring onions.

Now that you got the fundamentals of ramen down, let’s take a look at the ways to mastering the ordering of ramen!

Ramen Ordering Machine

The method you will see more often than the other is the ramen ordering machine. This is a food ticket system that has been taking over the ramen shops in recent years. The ramen ordering machine takes the form of a vending machine — what can be more Japanese than this? — and is usually at the entrance of the ramen shop.

These vending machines will have the names of the various ramen bowls offered at the ramen shop. Don’t expect photos — most of the time, there aren’t any of them on the machine. Only the more touristy ones will. It’s best to check the signboard or menu first if they have one. There is only one machine in each ramen shop, so it’s best to only go to the machine after you’ve made a decision. If not, you’ll find a long queue behind you very quickly. 

The ordering machines can be rather old-fashioned in some local, miniature shops. They have either buttons or touch panels; the former is more common. The latter is more common in larger fast-food chains and they even offer the ordering service in other languages. 

Let’s go through step-by-step instructions on how to order at these kinds of ramen shops.

1. Insert money

First and foremost, look for the coins and bills slots. The location of these can be different depending on the machines, but you’re definitely going to be able to spot them. Insert your money first and the machine will recognise how much you have put in and the dishes that are available to purchase will light up.

2. Choose your ramen

After that, pick the ramen of your choosing. As mentioned before, not all of them will have photos on the machine itself; it’s even less likely to have an English menu on it. If you can’t recognise anything, the best thing to do is to go for the top-left option. That’s because a lot of shops take advantage of the “Z-pattern” — this is the habit of people looking at the corners of something. Therefore, the main menu option is always the top left.

Another alternative to making your decision when you don’t know what the machine says is to ask the staff “osusume wa nandesuka?” (オススメはなんですか?), which translates to “what is your recommended dish?” If you’re lucky, there will even be stickers or writings that say “osusume” (オススメ) so you can just click that.

These ordering machines also offer quite a few choices of toppings on top of a normal ramen topping portion. You can get everything from boiled eggs to even side gyoza (御座) dumplings; maybe even a pint of beer to wash down the ramen? 

3. Take your ticket and change

Once you’ve pressed your ramen choice button, a food ticket(s) will fall into a small tray. Similar to the money slots, this tray’s position will vary depending on the machine. Some machines will give your change automatically, but others might require you to pull down a lever or press a button to get your change back.

4. Pass ticket to the chef

Your final step is simple: pass the food ticket to the chef or staff. Grab a seat and wait patiently for your delicious bowl of ramen!

In some ramen shops, you won’t get your ticket back, but depending on where you go, there might be another kind of receipt system. It’s hard to say as ramen shops can operate drastically different from each other.

Order Directly To The Chef

The next way of ordering is to basically order directly to the chef. This is usually for smaller ramen shops or niche ones. It gets the customers talking to the staff — just like a counter at the bar. If there’s a menu, take a look at them first before making your order. You can also ask for their osusume ramen! 

Payment is usually made after you’ve completed your meal. If you want any additional side dishes or toppings, you order them straight to the chef as well. Simple, right? Well, it might require some Japanese words — which I’ll introduce the basic ones in the next section!

Basic Words To Ordering Ramen

It’s less likely that you’ll need to use Japanese with the first ordering method — even though there are times where you would still need to communicate your preference — but you definitely have to with the second method.

Ramen shops are mostly all about crafting each bowl to suit each personal preference. There’s a high chance you’ll be asked about at least one of the following: type of soup, type of noodles, oiliness and serving size. Let’s take a look at the options you have for each.

Types of soup

In Japanese ramen, you’ll be surprised at the various types of broth used. The flavourings can come in a few choices — the main ones include shoyu (醤油, soy sauce), miso (みそ, fermented soy beans), shio (, salt) and tonkotsu (豚骨, Hakata pork bone)

That’s not all; there are also the various thicknesses of the soup, known as the aji no kosa (味の濃さ). You can have it futsuu (普通, normal), asssari (あっさり, light) or kotteri (こってり, thick). Some ramen shops offer the various thicknesses but if you don’t specify, the chef might automatically assume you’re going for the normal thickness.

Types of noodles

Noodles are also extremely important in a bowl of ramen. You will most definitely be asked about your preference of noodles when ordering your ramen — both with the ramen ordering machine and direct order methods. There are two parts of noodle types: hardness and thickness.

Noodle hardness, also known as men no katasa (麺の硬さ) has also three levels — futsuu (普通, normal), katame (かため, katame) and yawarakame (軟らかめ, soft).

The most common question you’ll be asked is about the thickness of the noodles. Choose between two — hosomen (細麺, thin) or futomen (太麺, thick).

Oil

If you’re picky with the abura no ryou (脂の量, oiliness) of your ramen, there’s also the option of requesting for more or less according to your preference! Request futsuu (普通) for a normal amount, oome (多め) for more oil and sukuname (少なめ) for less oil.

Serving size

The best part about ramen shops is that you can even choose your portion size. I personally love this as I don’t eat a big portion — and ramen can come in gigantic portions! If you’re the opposite of me and want a bigger portion, request oomori (大盛り) for a large one or tokudai (特大) for an extra large one. A normal portion is nami mori (並盛り).

A lot of the time, these upsizes are free of charge — so you wouldn’t have to pay extra for a bigger portion.

Conclusion

And there you have it — all the fundamentals you’ll ever need to have to order ramen like a local! With the basic words to get you a headstart at customising your bowl of ramen, you’re going to be able to find your perfect levels of each aspect in no time. Now go out and use your ramen terminologies during your next ramen meal!

#1 Annual Event in Japan is…

Introduction

The Land of the Rising Sun is all about their festivities. I’m not even exaggerating; there’s at least a few festivals or events happening every month of the year! The locals take some time off their busy schedules each time to celebrate these matsuri (祭り), the Japanese word for “festival”; even the schedule-packed salaryman who spends day-in and day-out in the office.

With so many celebrations going on throughout the year, it brings about the question: which one is the ultimate one? Out of all of them, there’s bound to be one that holds the most significance, even if it is just by a fine margin. 

True enough, there is one in the mix of matsuri that holds the title of the #1 annual event. No one in the country misses it for anything in the world. What is it, you ask? Read on to find out!

Events and Festivals in Japan

Did you know: there are more than 300,000 matsuri in Japan alone! You will never run out of entertainment and activities to do in the country. They come in all forms — everything from dance performances to traditional arts competitions, Japanese festivals covered them all! 

These traditional festivals can vary depending on the area that they are being held in. You’ll get the Yosakoi Matsuri — a traditional dancing competition festival — in Kochi Prefecture and Yuki Matsuri — a regional snow festival — in the Hokkaido Prefecture.

What’s more, the matsuri costumes can be completely different from other areas depending on where it is being held. It’s like a representation of the region that they are from. If a matsuri is sponsored by a local shrine or temple and is organised by the local community, chances are there will be a group of people in local costumes carrying a mikoshi (神輿) — a sacred portable Shinto shrine that is believed to serve as transportation for a deity during a festival or when moving to a new shrine. The people also believe that this addition to the festival will bless the town and the people in it during the celebration.

The #1 Annual Event in Japan Is… Shogatsu (New Year)

You didn’t have to wait long for the big reveal, did you? Without a doubt, the #1 annual event in all of Japan is definitely Shogatsu (正月), which translates to the Japanese New Year. This annual festival is celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, which means the Japanese new year falls on the same day as New Year’s Day — the first of January. This special time of the year is where families get together and spend quality time with each other, friends gather and have the time of their lives and the final memories for the year are made. 

This significant celebration in Japan is nothing like the rest of the world, though; while the West focuses on welcoming the start of the new year and (maybe) short-lived resolutions, the Shogatsu is far more serious. The event doesn’t start just the day before and ends when the year adds on another digit — Shogatsu begins days before the end of the year and continues a few days after. There is also a strong emphasis on prosperity and blessing in the upcoming year. 

Shogatsu Traditions

Just like every other aspect of the country, the Japanese have their own unique traditions when it comes to the Shogatsu. That’s what makes Japan, well, Japan. The list of Shogatsu traditions can go on and on, but there are a couple of them that are more prominent than others.

For example, at the stroke of midnight, Buddhist temples all around the country ring their bells 108 times — this number is believed to be the estimated number of worldly sins and desires. On top of that, an abundance of traditional foods — particularly soba as a symbol of good health — are prepared to be feasted on and children are given money. The Emperor of Japan will also begin the New Year with a dawn prayer for the nation.

The day after New Year’s, on the 2nd of January, the public is allowed access to the inner palace grounds in Tokyo. This is a rare treat that is only granted twice a year; the only other day is on the Emperor’s Birthday celebration on the 23rd of December.

The Japanese celebrate Shogatsu very seriously — most businesses remain closed until at least the 3rd of January.

A couple of days later, on the 9th of January, is the Coming of Age Day celebration. Some do consider this as part of the Shogatsu celebration — very subjective, I believe.

Other Big Annual Events In Japan

Shogatsu definitely takes the #1 spot easily, but there are also a few other major events in Japan that are celebrated just as seriously. In the mix of over 300,000 matsuri, a few of the other ones stand out.

Curious as to what they are? Let’s take a look at what they are!

Golden Week

Oh, the great Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク). If I have to be honest, this is an event I look forward to every year! For about a week from the end of April to the 6th of May, Japan has four of the most important festivals taking place back to back! It starts off with Emperor Hirohito’s birthday on the 29th of April, then the Constitution Memorial Day on the 3rd of May, Greenery Day on the 4th of May and finally Children’s Day on the 5th of May — this whole stretch is known as the Golden Week!

There’s nothing busier than this week in Japan — the tourism industry booms every year during this time as people plan big vacations domestically as well as abroad. Hotels, flights, transport and attractions will be booked up and packed; prices are through the roof!

You may also find that some of the local businesses closed during this week as the locals take time off to visit their family in a different prefecture or also travel for leisure themselves as well!

Obon

Another annual event the Japanese strictly observe is Obon (お盆). Although it is technically not an official national holiday, it is a huge celebration that takes place throughout the country. It’s not always the same date each year as it follows the lunar calendar instead as well as varying from region to region — it can be on July 15th, August 15th or the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. One thing’s for sure is that it’s always in the summer.

Obon takes place over the course of three days to celebrate the spirits of the ancestors that return home to rest. There will be fires and lanterns that are lit in front of homes to guide the spirits on their journey. Many of the locals head back to their ancestral homes for this event. 

Setsubun

This old traditional matsuri is a fun one — Setsubun (節分) kicks off the Haru Matsuri (春祭り) in Japan, around the 3rd or 4th February, and is basically a bean-throwing festival. It initially was intended to drive off evil spirits but now evolved into televised events that are hosted by national celebrities.

Taking place at shrines and temples on small stages all over the country, candy and money are also being thrown into the crowds for the lot of people rushing to catch these small treats. Setsubun can also be celebrated at home, with families throwing beans, in the same manner, to drive evil spirits away; one family member plays the bad guy and wears the demon mask while the others shout “get out!” and throw beans at them till they leave out the door — symbolising that the evil spirit is being slammed shut out the door.

Conclusion

With Shogatsu holding the #1 title and Golden Week, Obon and Setsubun as close runner-ups, Japan is definitely not short of significant annual events — especially when they have over 300,000 of them! Even if you’re planning a trip that’s not during the time of the mentioned ones above, you’re definitely going to be able to be part of at least one traditional matsuri on your trip. What better way to immerse in the local culture than a good ol’ Japanese festival?

Top 5 Ramen Spots in Tokyo!

Introduction

The first traditional dish one thinks of when Japan is mentioned is, without a doubt, ramen. It’s the most iconic noodle soup dish in the whole country — it’s so reputable that Japanese ramen restaurants have expanded to countries even on the other side of the globe!

There are four main types of ramen: shio (, salt-based), shoyu (醤油, soy sauce-based), miso (soybean paste-flavoured) and tonkotsu (豚骨, pork bone broth). Each of them have their own unique flavours and rich history that can’t be compared to another.

 

A tourist’s first order of business when in Japan is to devour a bowl of delicious, authentic Japanese ramen from the best ramen shops in the country. Little did they know that the streets of Japan are packed with noodle shops that will make the decision-making process a harder endeavour than one expected it to be.

 

Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place — here we review the top 5 ramen spots in Japan’s capital city, Tokyo! Read on to find out what these ramen shops are.

1. Nakiryu 

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B9dOTk-Dee-/

On the first of the list is the famous Michelin star ramen restaurant, Nakiryu. This noodle shop has been awarded a Michelin star for five consecutive years straight — that’s definitely saying something. What’s more, they’re the second Japanese ramen restaurant to earn such a highly-regarded award! That’s not all — the owner of this shop used to work at a famous restaurant in Hong Kong that was also awarded a Michelin star!

With such a high level of popularity, expect to wait for at least two hours during lunchtime on the weekends. Your safest bet is going during the weekdays where there is less of a crowd. Regardless, it’s definitely worth every second’s wait.

The most highly recommended item at Nakiryu is the restaurant’s special shoyu ramen. Simple in terms of visual but rest assured it’s more than what it seems. The ramen bowl is topped with three kinds of chashu (チャーシュ, barbecued pork) made from various parts cooked in different methods. There’s also shrimp wonton, a half-boiled egg and completed with some homemade bamboo shoots. Every single ingredient complements the other perfectly, and ultimately blending seamlessly in your tastebuds!

Nearest Station: JR Otsuka Station, 5-minute walk

Address: 2-34-10, Minamiohtsuka, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 1700005, Japan

Opening Hours: 11:30-15:00, 18:00-21:00 (On Mondays, 11:30-15:00)

Telephone Number: +81 03-6304-1811

2. Ginza Kagari Honten

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B7nebNDIP7j/

Looking for the creamiest and richest ramen in all of Tokyo? Ginza Kagari Honten is the place you should head to! It was mentioned in the Michelin guide a few years ago as a Bib Gourmand and has gained popularity dramatically ever since. Just like the neighbourhood it’s in, this ramen restaurant is refined and pristine, complete with beautiful presentations of food and well-thought-out interior design.

Ginza Kagari Honten offers quite a few variations of noodle dishes. For first-timers, the special ramen is your best choice. During your following visits, try their famous chicken bone soup called the tori paitan — it’s definitely one dish that will have a special place in your heart (or belly).

Be prepared to queue for at least an hour; Ginza Kagari Honten is pretty highly regarded. Weekdays are probably best to avoid the huge crowd.

Nearest Station: Ginza Station

Address: 6 Chome-4-12 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061

Opening Hours: 11:00-15:00, 17:30-22:00

3. Ushio

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BhgO0n4Hw6e/

Venture out of central Tokyo, away from the hustles and bustles of the city, for a delicious bowl of ramen at Ushio. The neighbourhood this ramen restaurant offers oasis amidst the eccentric ambiance of Japan’s capital city. It does get rather busy during lunchtime, but other than that you won’t really have to wait so long for a seat.

The highly recommended dish is the Nihon-ichi shoyu soba ramen. The soup is made from aged unpasteurized soy sauce, enhanced with high-grade kelp from Hokkaido. The combination makes it one of the best soups in all of Tokyo, full of umami richness. The standard toppings are there, but there are also the additional smoked duck meat slices that give the ramen dish a unique factor.

Don’t think it’s too far out — take the chance of going to Ushio to explore the quiet side of Tokyo.

Nearest Station: Awajicho Station, 1-minute walk

Address: 2-4-4 Kandaawaji-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 1010063, Japan

Opening Hour: 11:00-19:00

Telephone Number: +81 03-6206-9322

4. Menya Musashi

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bh1H4DUh62T/

If you want a conveniently located ramen shop that’s a step up above the rest, Menya Musashi is the ramen restaurant you’re looking for. They have about 10 chain stores all around Tokyo metropolitan areas itself including the busy Shinjuku. Even with a few shops all around the country, every single one of them is always seen with a queue coming out of them during peak hours — their ramen dishes are that good.

The ramen at Menya Musashi is made with the perfect blend of chicken, pork and fish broth. Try the signature ramen bowl, complete with chunky chashu slices and half-boiled eggs. Take a step up and opt for the tsukemen dipping noodles that provides a different but unique ramen experience.

They’re extremely affordable as well, so what are you waiting for?

Nearest Station: Seibu-Shinjuku Station, 1-minute walk

Address: 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome−2−6 西新宿K-1ビル 1F

Opening Hours: 11:00-22:30

Telephone Number: +81 03-3363-4634

5. Toripaitan Kageyama

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjxArcplZ7P/

Just a four-minute walk from the nearest station, this ramen restaurant is a hidden gem. Locals near and far travel here especially for Toipaitan Kageyama’s amazing ramen dishes. Their specialty is no doubt tori paitan — a kind of ramen dish made of white, thick soup with chicken. The one at this ramen restaurant is a perfect balance of richness and refreshing.

Managed by the high-class Chinese restaurant, Kageyamaro, with the cook formerly the chef of that restaurant as well, there’s no doubt this shop provides only high-quality dishes. Noodles are by Tokyo’s famous noodle makers called Asakusa Kaikaro — what other highly reputable sources can one ramen shop have?

Toripaitan Kageyama’s ramen dishes have lemon served alongside them. It might be a little strange to have a citrusy taste in ramen, but trust me, you won’t regret it. I recommend eating half the soup without the lemon first and then adding it after — this way, you’ll get the best of both worlds!

Nearest Station: Takadanobaba Station, 4-minute walk

Address: 1 Chome-4-18 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 169-0075

Opening Hours: 11:00-23:00

Telephone Number:  +81 03-6457-3160

Conclusion

With this carefully curated list of best ramen spots in Tokyo — all of them at different areas in the city — you’re not going to be out of options while you’re out on your adventures. Each with their own specialty, one cannot be compared to the other. So the best way to know which one’s best for you is to try them all! How about it — go on a ramen-hopping adventure when you’re in Japan!

10 Easy Phrases To Know At A Japanese Restaurant

Introduction

Going to restaurants and ordering food are essential activities in our daily lives, regardless of which country we are in. Especially in a country where the native language isn’t English, it can prove to be rather difficult to get your foodie desires across to the waiter. 

In Japan, the first language of the country is Japanese. Even though the locals are taught English in school, don’t count on them being anywhere near fluent; they’re more on the level of easy and basic words. Going to a Japanese restaurant with little to no idea on how to communicate your order in their native language can be an issue.

To make your Japanese restaurant visit a more seamless experience, why not learn a few easy phrases? It’s a great step to immerse yourself in the culture during your Japan trip. For those looking to or are already learning Japanese, they’re perfect to get the language learning ball rolling. 

What are you waiting for — read on for 10 easy phrases you need to know when you visit a Japanese restaurant!

1. Sumimasen (すみません)

One of the first few things you will need to do when in a restaurant is getting the waiter’s attention so he can make his way to your table and take your order. What do you say during that situation in a Japanese restaurant? The Japanese equivalent of “excuse me” is sumimasen (すみません)

Just like how you would raise your hand up in the air and call out to your waiter, instead of saying “excuse me”, try saying “sumimasen” instead. This word is extremely versatile — it can be used in numerous situations, just like English’s “excuse me”. 

Other than to get your waiter’s attention, you can also use it when you need to get across a bunch of people to go somewhere or even when you accidentally bump shoulders with someone. Basically any situation where you can use “excuse me”, you can use “sumimasen”.

2. Kore kudasai (これください)

You’ve decided what you want to order. You’ve got the waiter’s attention. Now all you need to do is to order from the menu. What do you say in that situation? Easy enough — just point at the item you want and say “kore kudasai” (これください) which translates to “this, please”. 

If you’re looking to order more than one item, just add “to” () in between each item, or “kore” (これ) in this situation. For example, if you have three items, point at each one and say “kore to kore to kore kudasai” (これとこれとこれください). 

You can even say it like how you would in English — by pausing at the commas; so it would be “kore, kore to kore kudasai” (これ、これとこれください). Isn’t that as simple as ABC?

3. … wa arimasuka? (。。はありますか?)

Want something but you don’t see it on the menu? Ask the waiter if they offer it at the restaurant you’re dining at. How, you ask? Well, simply add the item name before “wa arimasuka” (はありますか) to ask “Do you have …?”

For example, you’re craving for coca-cola but the drinks menu only has juices and cocktails. Ask the waiter, “koka kora wa arimasuka?” (コカコラはありますか?) He’ll either respond yes or no, and you’ll be able to figure it out based on the body gestures. For reference, yes is “hai” (はい) and no is “iie” (いいえ).

A bonus tip: if the waiter says that they do have the item you enquire about and you would like to order it, respond with “jaa, koka kora onegaushimasu” (じゃあ、コカコラお願いします) to order your refreshing glass of fizzy sweet drink.

4. Tennai de (店内で)

Some might argue that you won’t need this phrase, but I personally have been in quite a few situations where I have to use this. Especially for cafes and bistros — not so much dine in-only restaurants — the staff that greets you at the door would ask if you’re eating in or getting takeout. 

To dine in, use the phrase “tennai de (店内で) which literally translates to “in store”. This means that you’re going to be in the store while you savour the food you’re ordering. Another way of saying it — a less common way but still understandable — is “koko de tabemasu” (ここで食べます) which means “I’ll be eating here”.

Of course, if you’re taking out, you can just say the Japanese way of pronouncing “take out” which is “teku outo” (テークアウト).

5. Dorinku wa tabemono no ato de kudasai (ドリンクは食べ物の後でください)

In Japan, you’ll always be given a choice of getting your drink served before your main meal or after. The staff will more often than not ask for your preference. Usually, drinks are served after so that you’ll be able to enjoy them freshly made instead of it being diluted (if you ordered iced) or cold (if you ordered a hot drink).

To request to have your drink served after the main dish, just say to the waiter “dorinku wa tabemono no ato de kudasai” (ドリンク食べ物ください). This roughly translates to “serve the drink after the meal, please”. 

If you would prefer to have the drink before your main dish, switch the “ato” () out with “saki” ().

6. Omizu kudasai (お水ください)

In Japan, you will always be served with complimentary water. I personally love this aspect of customer service. What’s more, you’ll get free refills! Most of the time, the waiter that goes around checking on the guests are the ones refilling the cups of water automatically when they see any empty, but there’s also a chance of them missing yours out.

In that case, call out to the water and say “omizu kudasai” (おください) which translates to “water, please”. You can also use this phrase when the restaurant doesn’t automatically serve water to you at the start. Don’t worry, they’re almost always complimentary, even if it’s not served at the start.

7. Osusume wa nandesuka? (オススメはなんですか?)

If you’re like me, you’ll always want to order the chef’s recommendation menu item or the most popular one — especially if it’s at a restaurant I haven’t been to before. I wouldn’t want to spend on something that’s second-best; I want the best!

Get the waiter’s attention and ask what he would recommend on the menu. To do that, say “osusume wa nandesuka?” (オススメはなんですか?) which means “what are your recommendations?” Don’t be taken aback when the waiter replies in all Japanese — simply gesture him to point at the menu. Most of the time, they will.

8. Okaikei onegaishimasu (お会計お願いします)

After your delicious, hefty meal, you’re satisfied and full — and it’s time to get going to your next adventure in Japan. If the bill isn’t already on your table (the Japanese tend to have a system of billing the customers before they even have a bite), ask for it. Call out to the waiter, “okaikei onegaishimasu” (お会計お願いします) which translates to “bill, please”.

Once you’ve got your bill, there are two ways to pay them: either the waiter comes to you with a bill holder or you’ll be given a slip to hand it to the cashier who’s usually at the entrance of the restaurant. Most of the time, it’s the latter situation.

9. Betsu betsu de haraimasu (別々で払います)

When you’re eating out with a group of friends, splitting the bill can get rather confusing. Who ate what, how is it splitting, tax-calculating, having exact change and payment method — there are so many things to consider. It’s supposed to be a leisurely meal, not a calculating episode.

Don’t worry, Japan has got you covered. Almost all of the restaurants and other eateries have gotten the system of splitting the bill set up. Simply tell the cashier “betsu betsu de haraimasu” (別々払います) to mean “we’re paying separately”. Then, tell the cashier what menu items are yours and they’ll key in the exact amount, including tax, for you. It’s as easy as that! No hassle about calculation — it’ll all be done for you!

10. Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)

You’ve had a wonderful time at the restaurant and enjoyed the delicious meals and the high quality of customer service. You’d want to show your gratitude and appreciation. However, unlike in other countries, Japan has no tipping culture. How does one do it then?

Before you go out the door, turn back and say “gochisousama deshita” (ごちそうさまでした) to whichever staff that is sending you off. This phrase has a few different meanings, but it roughly translates to “thank you for the food”. It’s a common saying after a meal in Japanese culture to show appreciation to the person or place that provided your meal.

Conclusion                               

And there you have it; you’re on your way to ordering like a pro at any Japanese restaurant! Don’t worry if you don’t remember all the phrases or any helping vocabularies — the pointing technique usually works for most. It does take a while to get used to, but rest assured that by the time you’re ordering food at your tenth restaurant, you’re more than capable. Who knows, you might even know more than what is on this list!

10 Unique Japanese Street Foods To Try

Introduction

What’s a visit to Japan without the full experience of Japanese street food? It’s the rite of passage to a full immersion of the local culture! Some of these delicious treats have a history that dates back to the 20th century — how insane is that!

The most common place to find a sweet array of Japanese street food is during a festival. Hundreds of food stalls known as yatai (屋台) line to local streets and roadsides, offering anything and everything there is to offer during the season. From kakigori (カキ氷, a dessert consisting of shaved ice with flavoured syrup) in summer to grilled treats in winter, you won’t be satisfied until you’ve tried them all!

Affordable yet high-quality and delicious, what’s not to like about Japanese street food? The list is endless — takoyaki (タコ焼き) and yakiniku (焼肉) are, of course, the title holders for most famous Japanese street foods — but let’s take a look at the 10 most unique ones out there.

1. Taiyaki (鯛焼き)

For those with a sweet tooth, you definitely need to try this; the taiyaki (鯛焼き) is a fish-shaped waffle that is usually filled with flavourings like red bean paste, chocolate or custard. Take your pick based on what you fancy at the moment — or try them all!

Taiyaki are made in specially-manufactured molds shaped like fish. The exterior is crispy and made from a simple batter mix of flour, baking soda, sugar and salt — complementing perfectly with the smooth, soft interior filling. 

This sweet Japanese street food is more common in Tokyo, but you’ll definitely see some yatai in other tourist attraction cities selling them. There’s a huge discussion about the proper way of eating taiyaki — is it heads first or tail? I personally go for the head!

2. Dango (団子)

If you like soft, chewy and sweet, this Japanese street food is made for you. Dango (団子) is a skewer of dumplings made from mochiko (もち粉), a type of rice flour, and often drowned in sweet sugar and shoyu (醤油) sauce.

Dango are served all year round — no season is attached to it. However, you do get seasonal-flavoured dango like the hanami (花見) dango, which is named after the cherry blossoms and is made to resemble the pink, white and green of the season’s scenery. You’ll typically get three to five dango on a stick.

There are also other types of dango depending on your preference for sweetness and filling level. For example, a sweet potato-filled dango might as well be a whole meal!

3. Senbei (煎餅)

You see this Japanese street food everywhere. You can buy senbei (煎餅) in-stores but the ones you get at a yatai are unbeatable — they’re cooked over a charcoal grill, giving a special kind of crispiness. Senbei can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and flavors; typically they’re served savoury with soy sauce or salt seasoning, but you can also get them in sweet varieties as well.

Dense and crunchy senbei are common in Tokyo while lightly textured ones are more common in Kyoto because it’s made from mochigome (もち米) rice there. If you are in Nara and happen to have a few senbei with you, bring them to feed the sacred deers — they have grown to love this delicious local treat and might even bow to you for one!

4. Imagawayaki (今川焼き)

They look like mini pancakes — they might as well be. Imagawayaki (今川焼き) started out in Tokyo during the Edo era, and this sweet treat was named after a bridge that it was originally sold on. What a culturally rich treat, isn’t it?

Imagawayaki is made from a batter mix of flour, eggs, sugar and water. The mix is baked in disk-shaped molds that create golden and spongy bite-sized cakes. Normally, imagawayaki are filled with red bean paste, chocolate or custard — just like the taiyaki. 

5. Yakiimo (焼き芋)

Travel back in time to olden Japan with this Japanese street food, the yakiimo (焼き芋). This autumn treat is sure to warm up your bellies and fill you with not only sweet potato goodness but also a blast of culture. 

To make the yakiimo, Japanese sweet potatoes are baked carefully over a wood fire. They are then served in brown paper packets, sometimes in convenient bite sizes. Some even describe the soft skin of the yakiimo as caramel-like flavour. 

6. Ikayaki (イカ焼き)

If you love takoyaki, take a step up and go for the ikayaki (イカ焼き)! Instead of getting cube-sized octopus bites, go all out and get a full squid, grilled over charcoal that gives the slimy meat a mouthwatering, chewy texture.

It may look like simple Japanese street food but when it’s made right, you’ll be surprised at how something so simple is so delicious. The skewered octopus is then topped off with a generous amount of soy sauce and a slice of lemon or lime to add on to the flavourful experience. 

7. Yaki Tomorokoshi (焼きとうもろこし)

The Japanese love their corn — they appear on anything, from pizzas and pasta to bread. In summer, corn is in season, and that’s when this famous Japanese street food makes its appearance. Yaki tomorokoshi (焼きとうもろこし) is whole cobs of corn that are chargrilled over an open flame, sometimes with miso.

That’s not all there is to this treat; it’ll be brushed with a glaze of soy sauce, mirin and butter to give yaki tomorokoshi the mix of sweet and savoury depths in flavour. This Japanese street food can be a healthier alternative compared to the other fried and sugary options you find at other yatai.

Yaki tomorokoshi is often associated with Hokkaido, so that’s your best bet at seeing various yatai serving this snack. But because it’s become such a national street food, you’ll easily find this treat in any other city in Japan.

8. Shioyaki (塩焼き)

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of how it looks; shioyaki (塩焼き) is actually quite a flavourful Japanese street food. It usually consists of fish that’s been marinated overnight in salt and grilled over flames the next day. 

Usually, mackerel is used to create this dish as it’s one of the most common catches throughout the year. However, when there are seasonal catches of fish, the seasonal shioyaki make their way onto the yatai menu. An annual seasonal shioyaki is the tai no shioyaki (鯛の塩焼き) which is made of sea bream and can only be found at New Year festivals. 

9. Nikuman (肉まん)

While you’ll get this all-year-round and even in convenience stores, nothing beats the ones at Japanese street festivals. This steamy dough with pork and onion filling called nikuman (肉まん) is usually served during the winter season to warm street folks right up. 

These buns are pretty much the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese steamed buns called bao. Traditionally, the filling is meat but recently there have been tons of other kinds of fillings for these steamed buns — think red bean paste or even pizza toppings! 

10. Candied Fruits

Last but definitely not least, one of the most unique Japanese street foods is candied fruits. This is without a doubt a street classic everywhere in Japan and you can find them in many fruit variations, all drenched generously with syrup. 

The most common one is the ringo ame (リンゴ飴) which are candied apples. There are seasonal candied fruits as well, like the ichigo ame (イチゴ飴) which are candied strawberries that you’ll be able to taste at the peak of strawberry season in spring. If you’re lucky enough to spot a yatai selling mikan ame (ミカン飴), grab a stick because this candied mandarin is made of a fruit that’s native to Japan and quite rare.

Conclusion                               

Have these unique Japanese street foods got your mouth watering and belly rumbling yet? While there are only ten on the list, the world of Japanese street foods is huge and it’s nothing like anything you can imagine — you have to see it to believe it. So what are you waiting for? Get on planning a trip to Japan during the peak festive season for your ultimate foodie experience.

Japan’s Complicated Relationship with Plastic

Introduction

If you don’t already know, the Japanese have quite a special relationship with plastic. Some might even say the relationship is quite intimate — uh oh! It’s the kind of relationship that has quite a reputation and has been going on for an extended period of time.

However, it’s coming to the point where the numbers are reaching a dangerously high level. No matter what reasons there are, it’s come to the point where even the locals realize they need to do something about it. We can’t change the past, but what we can do is improve the present and plan for the future. And that’s exactly what Japan is doing. 

Even though the efforts won’t be enough to fully reverse the effects of decades of damage, it will clear things up more than not doing anything. Let’s look at the whole unique relationship between Japan and plastic, and what else the country as well as us travelers can do to soften the impact of this excessive plastic usage.

Japan’s Plastic Usage Situation & The Reason Why

I bet you heard about the diligent recycling practice in Japan. The Japanese recycle almost everything, and yes, including plastic. You’ll find at least three types of bins in a row wherever you go in Japan. However, regardless of the recycling rate of 84%, Japan is facing extreme pressure from the rest of the world because of its excessive use of plastic!

Even though plastic is recycled, not all of the recycled plastic is renewed into other materials and forms. More than 50% are thermal recycled, and that’s not exactly great. These plastics are burned to provide energy and then dumping the incinerated waste in landfills. That causes a whole lot of other environmental issues!

The reason behind the lack of conscious effort with regards to plastic use may be due to the extreme usage being the social norm. I mean, you don’t really see people carrying their own shopping bags to the supermarket in Japan, do you? Water bottles aren’t as big of a thing when you have the convenience of vending machines. 

How did the plastic usage in Japan become so extremely high in the first place, then? Let’s have a look at the common culprits that contribute to excessive plastic use:

One-time usage of plastic bags

You wouldn’t believe the number of plastic bag usage per person in Japan. There has been research that showed the average Japanese person uses about 450 plastic bags a year! That’s over one plastic bag a day! Can you imagine the total number of plastic bags used if every single one of the people in Japan uses that many plastic bags minimum each year over the span of a couple of years?

What’s more, these plastic bags are often of one-time usage. Supermarkets in Japan casually give out plastic bags to carry the groceries, and then the customers chuck them out as soon as they have unpacked their groceries at home. Smaller businesses are also doing the same thing — giving out plastic bags like giving out candy to kids. Not good at all.

PET bottles

The Japanese are obsessed with purchasing PET-bottled beverages. Japan has a huge market for that, from vending machines to rows and rows of PET bottled beverages in convenience stores, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. Statistics show that there are about 23 billion PET bottles produced each year in Japan alone, making it about 183 PET bottles per person per year! Those numbers are insane!

Excessive plastic packaging of products

You might not believe it when I say that Japan contributes to the second-largest amount of plastic packaging waste in the whole world after the US, but you better believe it. Because they do! Statistics show that Japan produces more plastic than the rest of Asia combined per capita — Japan produces 106 kilograms of plastic for themselves while the rest of Asia produces 94 kilograms of plastic. Some of them are for export and not for the country itself, while Japan is for themselves alone!

Japan has a habit of wrapping a product more than a couple of times. Don’t be surprised to see items packed individually, each with their own designated plastic packaging (or two). Then, they’re all thrown into a bigger plastic bag for the customer’s convenience. Anything you can think of that can be packaged in plastic, the Japanese will go out of their way to wrap it in multiple layers of plastic. 

All these extra packagings, as well as purchasing PET bottles and one-time plastic bag usage, can be due to their hygiene and cleanliness obsession as well as the need to provide the best and highest quality of customer service in terms of convenience. Some places do it for the sake of aesthetics — can you believe that?

How The Japanese Are Tackling The Plastic Usage Situation

It’s about time Japan realizes that their complicated relationship with plastic is not exactly good. The Japanese have realized that their excessive plastic consumption is damaging the environment and causing all sorts of problems. Not only the government is taking measures to reduce wastage but also local businesses.

It can be difficult for Japan to totally eliminate plastic usage — after all, it’s been part of their daily lives that it’s becoming a habit. Hopefully, these measures below help with progressing to a more plastic waste-free future!

Charging for plastic bags

After years of discussion, The Japanese government finally approved the proposal to charge for plastic bags. Starting in July 2020, it is mandatory for all retail stores in Japan to charge for their plastic bags. With this method, the government hopes to cut down the plastic usage by 25% by the year 2030.

Reduction and switch-out of plastic straws

One of the most prominent plastic wastage products is single-use plastic drinking straws. Japan has caught up with the rest of the world and some of the Japanese eateries have either switched out their plastic straws for paper and bamboo ones or not even offer them at all! Even bigger companies like Starbucks in Japan are opting out of plastic straws, inspiring other local cafes and restaurants to do the same.

Another effort to reduce single-use plastic straws is by big-name manufacturers like BALIISM and Amica Terra. They started the production of bamboo straws and supplying eateries in place of plastic straws. Bamboo straws are even more efficient than paper straws as the material can be naturally-processed and returned to nature after use. A Japanese chain restaurant called Watami has taken up this method and applied it to all of 60 of their outlets in Japan as well as the other 600 in the rest of Asia!

Konbini efforts

With over 60,000 locations in just Japan alone, convenience stores, or konbini (コンビニ) have quite the influence. If anyone scene can make a drastic difference in the excessive plastic usage situation, it’s definitely the konbini. The different konbini companies like FamilyMart and Lawson have taken their own individual measures to play their part in improving the situation. FamilyMart is often finding new ways of packaging their products to exclude plastic while Lawson switches out plastic cups for paper ones.

The support of local businesses

Even the big-name Japanese companies are following suit with regards to cutting down plastic usage. Everyone knows the extremely successful beverage company Asahi. It has been known to be a role model in this area, implementing measures since the early 2000s. Not only did they make their packaging more eco-friendly and introduce label-free bottles for their bottled beverages, Asahi even spread awareness using their influential social media platforms. Promoting campaigns as well as hosting competitions, they motivate their customers to reduce plastic wastage. Fast Retailing Group is another leading example. This company is the mother company of popular fashion brand UNIQLO. They switched out plastic bags for recyclable paper bags.

How Can We Avoid Plastic Usage in Japan?

The dangerous levels of plastic usage in the country are no joke. Regardless if we’re living in Japan or merely going there for travel, we should all play our part to reduce plastic usage and play a part in protecting the environment. There are tons of easy things we can all do without going out of our way to avoid plastic usage. Even the smallest of efforts create big results if everyone is doing it. Let’s find out the methods we can implement to avoid plastic usage in Japan.

Say No to Plastic Bags

The ultimate way to help is to put a stop to single-use plastic bags. Instead of accepting the plastic bag from supermarkets and convenience stores, or even takeout service, why not try declining them? Supermarkets are flooded with cardboard boxes used to transport the store’s goods. Some of these grocery stores offer the alternative use of cardboard boxes to carry your groceries instead of plastic bags. But if the one you go to does not, approach the staff to request the switch. They’ll be more than happy to provide you with one.

Skip the Plastic Straws

This measure has been practiced by the rest of the world, and Japan is slowly catching on. Similar to single-use plastic bags, skip the single-use plastic straws. If every drink in Japan skips the plastic straw, the number of plastic straw usage will drastically decrease! One small step taken by an individual is a ginormous one taken by Japan.

Bring-Your-Own

If you’re ready to take the next step of contributing to a waste-free future in Japan, what about the idea of bringing your own utensils? This can be anything from your own cups and containers to multi-use straws and reusable shopping bags.

Bring your own mug and hand it over to the staff to make your drink in the mug instead of a plastic cup. Get on the bandwagon of metal straws — yes, there are even ones big enough for your tapioca pearls! You’re not only helping the environment but also producing aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos.

While you’re at it, grab a reusable shopping bag before heading out the door for your grocery shopping. It doesn’t have to be a fancy one, but if you insist, Daiso has quite a few cool ones like the netting shopping bag — only for ¥100!

Useful Words & Phrases

Japan is not exactly English-friendly. Their first language is Japanese. Even though they study English in school from a young age, their lack of exposure and opportunity to use the language result in their inability to converse confidently in English. Because of that, learning a few words and phrases in Japanese will greatly ease the whole process of communication.

Here are some general words to help with your efforts to reduce plastic usage:

Fukuro () — Bag

Sutoro (ストロー— Straw

Futa (フタ— Plastic lid for cup

Madora (マドラ— Stopper for takeaway cups

Reshiito (レシット— Receipt

Use those words together with these useful phrases:

~ wa iranai desu (〜はいらないです) — “I don’t want/need _____”

Jibun no ~ wa tsukaimasu (自分の〜は使います) — “I will use my own _____”

Conclusion

This complicated relationship Japan has with plastic led to the Japanese being too dependable on plastic usage, so much that it’s technically part of their lifestyle now. Thankfully the country is starting to realize its ways and making changes for the better. With all of the government’s implementations and the locals’ efforts to limit plastic usage, Japan will be well on its way to a waste-free future in no time!

Japanese Writing Systems: How Significant Are They Individually?

Introduction

Those of us who have learned or are still learning Japanese would be aware of the various writing systems in the Japanese language. Some of us were even taken aback and overwhelmed by the number of characters in just the hiragana writing system, let alone all three! At one point during our studying period, we probably wondered if it’s even necessary to learn all three of the Japanese writing systems. I mean, surely a language wouldn’t need that many characters.

I bet we go back and forth with ourselves on whether or not it’s worth memorizing every single hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ), and the infinite kanji (漢字) characters. How significant are each of the Japanese writing systems, actually? Let’s find out!

The Japanese Writing Systems: Hiragana, Katakana & Kanji

The Japanese writing system sounds very technical, doesn’t it? Well, the term is unavoidable — it is the very basics of the Japanese language. In English, there is only one script: the Latin script. In Japanese, they have three: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Technically four, as the romaji (ローマ字) is also a kind of writing system but the Japanese don’t use them as often as this system is just the Romanisation of the Japanese language.

Hiragana and katakana writing systems are native to Japan. The characters for these scripts are syllable sounds. Kanji, on the other hand, is borrowed from China and is made up of logograms where each character represents whole words instead.

In just one sentence, you’ll see all three of the writing scripts. Just by introducing your name in a sentence like “私の名前はアズラです” (this translates to “My name is Azra”) already has hiragana, katakana, and kanji in it!

Bonus point: the combined name for hiragana and katakana is called kana (仮名).

Hiragana

Let’s take a look at the first Japanese writing system, the hiragana. The system has 46 basic characters and each one of them has its own sound. The main vowels are a, i, e, o, and u — similar to the English language. They’re written as あ, い, え, お and う.

The hiragana was created by the women as a simpler alternative to the kanji back in the 8th century. During those days, only the men were allowed to be educated in reading and writing. Kanji was also the only writing system back then. After a while, the men realized that the hiragana is based on sounds rather than logograms, so they took up this writing system as well.

Hiragana is mostly used for particles, adverbs, postpositions, auxiliary verbs, function words, and Japanese origin words. Sometimes they are used as a replacement for kanji characters when there is no kanji for it, or even when the kanji is too high-level to be read by others. There’s also the time when hiragana is used as furigana (ふりがな), which is a Japanese reading aid where the hiragana characters are above the kanji characters to help with pronunciation. 

The word sumimasen (すみません), translating to “excuse me”, is fully written in hiragana because its origin is Japanese. This is also the same for the word yokoso (ようこそ) to mean welcome.

Katakana 

Just like the hiragana, the katakana is also a native writing system of Japan based on sounds rather than logograms. The katakana has a more angular shape compared to the hiragana which are more rounded and cursive. The katakana writing system also has the same vowels of a, e, i, o and u, but they are written as ア, エ,イ, オ and ウ. If they’re so similar, why the need for another writing system?

The katakana writing system has a similar history to the hiragana writing system — both stem from how difficult kanji is and hence the birth of these new alphabet systems. The difference between hiragana and katakana is that the katakana characters are just simplified versions of the kanji symbols themselves. After a while, they were standardized to become an alphabet. 

Back then, they were a companion to the kanji characters. Now, they are used to write words of foreign origin, modern loan words, slang, and colloquialisms. Words like kohi (コーヒ, which is coffee in Japanese) and keki (ケーキ, to mean cake) are all written in katakana as they are foreign loan words.

Kanji

Here comes the arguably hardest writing system of all of the Japanese writing system: the kanji. It is the first writing system introduced in Japan in the 4th century. The Japanese had their own spoken language but not a written one. 

The kanji characters are logograms, which means each character is like a picture that represents words or even an idea. Sometimes, one kanji character can contain various symbols, each with their own meanings! There are about 50,000 kanji characters in existence — don’t panic just yet, studies showed that 500 of the most common kanji can account for 80% of the entire kanji in a regular text script like a newspaper.

While they are loaned from the China language, the pronunciations of the kanji characters are quite different. The Japanese took the characters of the Chinese kanji and matched it to the same word in the Japanese language. The Chinese pronunciation is still used to this day, however. So there are two ways of pronouncing just one kanji: the Chinese way which is the onyomi (音読み) and the Japanese way which is the kunyomi (訓読み).

Take the kanji to mean “mountain” for example. A Japanese person will look at it and pronounce it the kunyomi way, “yama (やま)”, but a Chinese will look at it and pronounce the onyomi pronunciation, which is “san (さん)”.

Kanji characters are used when there are content-heavy words — nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives are all possible to be written in kanji. Because of that, you’re more likely to see kanji characters than kana characters in Japanese texts. 

Are All Of Them Significant in Japanese Writing?

So the question remains: are all of the Japanese writing systems significant in the language? The answer is: yes! 

Having all three of the Japanese writing systems in a sentence creates easier readability, especially the kanji characters. They create natural pauses and breaks in a sentence for the reader to separate which ones are nouns and which are verbs. Having a hiragana-only sentence is like having an English sentence without the spaces — extremely difficult to read and more-than-borderline confusing!

The katakana adds an extra specialty to the Japanese sentences. In my opinion, it adds that unique notion — sometimes the katakana words look classier and more modern, don’t you think? 

Conclusion

It might be easier to convince yourself that one (or two) of the Japanese writing systems is not significant enough to include in your Japanese studies — I mean, one can pull off a full sentence with just hiragana alone, right? However, why put in half the effort into the Japanese language learning when you can hustle just at the start by memorizing a couple more characters and have it easier later on — especially now that we know all three of the Japanese writing systems are extremely significant individually and together!