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Traditions: Manners

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Prefecture Ranking

Prefecture Ranking

Let’s say that you won a trip to Japan, but the catch is that you can only visit one prefecture. Which one would you choose? Just out of curiosity, I did some online research to see which prefectures in Japan have the most 観光客(かんこうきゃく・kankoukyaku・tourists). I’ll share with you the top three, so that you can get some basic information, you know, just in case you win that trip.

Prefecture Ranking Typical scene of a scramble intersection in Tokyo

#1 東京
Number one prefecture is 東京(とうきょう・ Tokyo). If you want to see urban Japan, with the neon lights and scramble intersections (see picture above), then this is your place. There’s Shibuya for shopping and people watching (many gyaru, Lolita, and other crazy fashioned people), and the beautiful night scenery of Odaiba if you want to go out on a romantic date. More tourist-y places include Asakusa and other お寺(おてら・otera・temple) and 神社(じんじゃ・jinjya・shrine) which can basically be found anywhere in Japan, but all have their own unique taste. Also, don’t forget 東京タワー(Tokyo tower) , the Eiffel tower of Japan. 

#2 京都
If you want to indulge in old, historical, traditional Japan, 京都(きょうと・ Kyoto) is your place to be. Here, you can find many of the most famous お寺 and 神社 in Japan. With the most facilities given the “national treasure” title out of all of the prefectures, there’s nowhere better to see the history of Japan first hand.

The most popular city in 京都 is 祇園(ぎおん・gion), where one may be able to run into a real life Maiko or Geisha (if you're lucky). 

#3 北海道
It is a prefecture full of nature, and it is a great place to go to have some outdoor fun and to enjoy nature with the whole family. The Northern Horse Park (yes, it is an English name), is popular for their horse back riding and break/cheese making classes, popular to families with children. Another place to go is Souunkyou – a popular 温泉(おんせん・onsen・hot spring) cite with a magnificent valley and waterfall, for those of you who just want to kick back and relax. 

Wrap up
Interestingly, the top three 観光地(かんこうち・kankouchi・tourist spot) were all very unique from each other. But this is only an introduction to the vast array of interesting places Japan has to offer. If you’re planning on going to Japan though, you should always consider going to the places with less tourists, because those places tend to be the ones that you really end up remembering.

Prefecture Ranking Maiko of Gion, Kyoto


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
観光客 かんこうきゃく kankoukyaku tourists
お寺 おてら otera temple
神社 じんじゃ jinjya shrine
観光地 かんこうち kankouchi tourist spot

電車 Trains

電車 Trains

Unlike the US, Japan's public transportation system, especially the 電車 (でんしゃ・densha・train), is very well developed. In most cities, People can live comfortably without a car; infact, it is a recent development for many families to start owning cars.

電車 Trains 駅員 shoving people onto the 電車.

Being Punctual
The Japanese culture is very strict on time. Punctuality is an absolute must for all public transportation, especially the 電車. This means that even if the train is running two minutes late, the 駅 (えき・eki・station) plays an announcement of deep apology.

電車 マナー
Like a lot of things in Japan, there are always appropriate マナー (まなー・mana-・manner) codes. First and foremost, talking on the cell phones is absolutely forbidden on 電車 in Japan. Texting is allowed in paces other than the handicapped seats. If you absolutely must answer your phone, keep it short, because you'll get a lot of nasty glares from people around you. 

Also, if you are ever riding the 電車, be sure to offer your seats to elderly, disabled, and pregnant/nursing people. Many young Japanese people do not do this as often anymore, but it is a highly respected act. Besides, you'll feel good doing nice to someone else.

Rush Hour
Because most people go to and from work on the 電車, rush hour gets extremely hectic in Japan. People, literally, get packed into the 電車 by the 駅員 (えきいん・ekiin・station staff) (see picture above). Obviously, the inside of the train is jam packed, to a point where people cannot move or look at their own feet. In this state, the 電車 is called 満員電車 (まんいんでんしゃ・manin densha・full train). Obviously, it is a very uncomfortable place/situation to be in, but perhaps an experience worth trying if you are ever in Japan. 

Though Japanese 電車 companies and the government has put in a lot of effort to combat the sexual harassment problems on 電車 to better the riding experience for people, there are those who misuse and take advantage of the circumstance. More recently, we hear of cases where people are wrongly accused of sexually harassing someone, and with the notorious conviction rate of Japan, as long as a woman insists on it, a man has a very slim chance of being proven innocent.

Women-Only cars
電車 have always had a problem with sexual harassment, especially during the rush hour 満員電車 time. To combat this problem, recently the trains have dedicated a car to women. These 女性専用車両 (じょせいせんようしゃりょう・josei senyou sharyou・women-only cars), are dedicated to only women during the busiest times of the day. 

電車 Trains The bullet train can go up to 180mph. 


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
電車 でんしゃ densha train
えき eki station
駅員 えきいん ekiin station staff
満員電車 まんいんでんしゃ manin densha full train
マナー まなー mana- manner

地震 Earthquake in Japan

地震 Earthquake in Japan

On March 11, 2011 at 14:46 (JST) a 地震 (じしん・jishin・earthquake) of M9.0 occurred in the Pacific Ocean, just 130 km (80miles) off the nearest shore of Japan. This 地震 was the strongest in the history of Japan and fifth strongest in the world since 1900. 

Soon after the 地震, a massive 津波 (つなみ・tsunami) swept through the pacific coast of Japan destroying everything in its path. The greatest damage was done in the Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukuoka prefectures. The death toll may rise over 20,000.

地震 Earthquake in Japan X marks where the earthquake occurred. Red marks the area with the largest damage due to the 津波.

被災者 - Survivors
The 被災者 (ひさいしゃ・hisaisha・disaster victims) have been temporarily placed in shelters (commonly school gymnasiums and community centers). Shortages of water, food, and supplies are currently a concern. The main problem is the shortage of gas and oil; Gas is needed to transport supplies and people to and from the shelters. Shelters also do not have enough oil to sufficiently heat the shelters, and thus 被災者 must bear the harsh winter climate of northern Japan (below freezing on most days). Hospitals in the area are overflowed and also suffer from a shortage of supplies and power. Many patients have lost their lives in the process of moving to safer hospitals.  Cutting back on electricity consumption is also important among the regions that were relatively unaffected by the disaster. Planned blackouts are occurring in different regions around Tokyo.

Among the heavily affected areas (Fukushima prefecture) was a nuclear powerplant. Radiation is already leaking out from the plant, and whether or not a larger leakage or explosion can be prevented or not will be a hot topic of concern for the world.

How to be more informed
The Japanese media, especially news, is focusing heavily on the 地震. If you are interested in learning more on the up-to-date information on this disaster, there are many live online streams of Japanese news channels. Although Japanese streams of news have become unavailable as of March 25th, English news streams continue; please take a look at NHK World.

The world is stepping up to help
Many countries are sending aid to Japan in this time of disaster. For the first time in history, China has sent a disaster aid team to Japan. Hopefully this will be a representation of a large step toward improving the long-term political and historical dispute between Japan and China. These foreign aid and volunteer organizations will be key to a prompt rescue of the 被災者 recovery of Japan. 

地震 Earthquake in Japan The tsunami waves swept through residential areas causing devastating damage. 


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
地震  じしん  jishin earthquake
津波 つなみ tsunami tsunami
被災者 ひさいしゃ hisaisha disaster victims

日本円 ¥ Japanese Yen

日本円 ¥ Japanese Yen

Whenever you go to a foreign country, it's good to have knowledge of the country's currency- especially coins. Nobody wants to be the clueless foreigner holding up the cash register line trying to scavenge through their coin purse picking out the exact change.

日本円 ¥ Japanese Yen Japanese yen 小銭

小銭 - Coins
The Japanese 円 (えん・en・"en," not yen) has 6 小銭 (こぜに・kozeni・coins) that are used on an everyday basis. In the US, we mainly use pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Though we also have the 50 cent and one dollar coins, we do not see or use them as often. The U.S. 小銭 are tricky because it's hard to quickly distinguish what the value is. The great thing about Japanese currency (especially with the 小銭) is that, for the most part, the value of the currency can be easily identified.

  • 1円 (ichien): this is the smallest coin and is made of aluminum. It is extremely light and hard to confuse with the others - it just feels the cheapest.
  • 5円 (goen): this is the only coin that uses the Kanji 五 instead of the number 5. Though the number is not easily identifiable, the color and donut shape of the 小銭 is very distinct.
  • 10円 (jyuuen): this is the only copper colored 小銭.
  • 50円 (gojyuen): similar donut shape as 5円, but silver. Side note: Currencies with holes in them are very rare.
  • 100円 (hyakuen): silver 小銭 with no hole.

500円 (gohyakuen): Now, this is an interesting 小銭. It is roughly valued as 5 U.S. dollars, but is in the form of a coin. With a coin worth so much, it makes much more sense in Japan to carry a coin wallet instead of just throwing all the change in your pocket and letting your washing machine eat it.

お札 (おさつ・osatsu・Bills)

  • 1,000円札 (せんえんさつ・sen en satsu・1000yen bill) is the lowest worth お札 in Japan. The man portrayed is Hideo Noguchi, a famous bacteriologist from the early 1900s).
  • 2,000円札 (nisen en satsu): this bill is rarely used. It is somewhat similar to the $2 bill in the U.S.. You can get this お札 easily at the bank, but not many people seem to use it.
  • 5,000円札 (gosen en satsu): This bill is interesting because a woman is portrayed. Her name is Ichiyou Higuchi, a famous female author.
  • 10,000円札 (ichiman en satsu): portrays Yukichi Fukuzawa, an ex-samurai, author, translator, entrepreneur, and teacher who founded the prestigious Keio University.
日本円 ¥ Japanese Yen Japanese yen お札

Japanese people are more likely to carry and use cash instead of credit and debit cards. Also, unlike in the U.S. and using 100 dollar bills, one can use a 10,000円札 to buy a 150円 bottle of juice at the convenience store, with no hesitation or questioning. 


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
えん en "en", not yen
小銭 こぜに kozeni coins
お札 おさつ osatsu bills

制服 School Uniforms

制服 School Uniforms

Walking around in Japan, you'll see a lot of 学生 (がくせい・gakusei・students). Their 制服 (せいふく・seifuku・uniform) make it especially easy to point them out. Compared to the U.S., there are a whole lot more schools in Japan that require students to wear 制服. The vast majority of 中学 (ちゅうがく・chuugaku・junior high) and 高校 (こうこう・koukou・high school) require students to wear 制服, which obviously has its pros and cons. This month's JOL will introduce some of the different kinds 制服 that people (notice how I didn't say 学生) wear.

制服 School Uniforms 学ラン&セーラー服 (left), ブレザー (right)

The traditional type of school 制服 are 学ラン (がくらん・gakuran) and セーラー服 (せーらーふく・se-ra-fuku・literally "sailor clothes"), displayed in the left photo above.

  • 学ラン refers to the male 制服 of this style, usually all black with a mandarin collar (short, unfolded stand-up collar). Outside of class, this type of 制服 is commonly worn by Japanese male cheer squads. It's nothing like American cheerleading, and it's hard to explain in words, so if you're curious I'd suggest you look up a video of 応援団 (おうえんだん・ouendan) online. 
  • セーラー服 can be identified by the collar flap that squares off in the black like a mini-cape and tied ribbon that hangs in the front. It's said to be modeled after the 制服 of foreign sailors, and hence the name, "セーラー".

Recently schools have been switching to or offering the more modern 制服 style,ブレザー (ぶれざー・bureza-・blazer) (photo above right). Obviously from its name, this 制服 incorporates a blazer for both genders. The jacket is usually a solid color, but unlike the 学ランand セーラー服, it's common for the bottoms of these 制服 to be a different color than the top. The skirts are almost always plaid, but the male pants are usually a different design (often a solid or subtle design).

So non-students wear 制服?
As foreshadowed in the intro paragraph, people other than students do wear 制服 in Japan. Not only that, a 制服 that a real 学生 wears outside is not necessarily the 制服 from their school.

Faux 制服 can be found in many department stores, and there are many popular specialty apparel stores just for that purpose. Many of popular clothing brands will have a line of faux 制服 too. Prices can be pretty steep, amounting to a couple hundred dollars for the whole set, which is comparable to the official school 制服.

People buy faux 制服 for many reasons, like if you're no longer in school and want to feel nostalgic (or if you look young enough, to be able to act like a 学生), or even if your school requires you to wear a セーラー服 but you've always wanted wear the ブレザー. Since it's so typical to see hundreds of real 学生 with their 制服, it's pretty easy to blend in unnoticed.

制服 School Uniforms Faux 制服 section at a female apparel store.


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
学生 がくせい gakusei students
制服 せいふく seifuku uniform

Japanese Relationship Words That Don't Exist In English

Japanese Relationship Words That Don't Exist In English

It's February, the - of love! Or so say the many chocolate, flower and jewelry shops that are trying to push Valentine's Day on to you. I've wanted to do a newsletter on Japanese words that don't have English translations for a while now… and since that would be too broad of a topic, this - we'll look narrow the topic down to words and phrases that relate to the theme of love and relationships. 

Japanese Relationship Words That Don't Exist In English

恋の予感 (こいのよかん・koi no yokan) is a term made up of two parts. First, 恋 (こい・koi・crush, or love) and 予感 (よかん・yokan・presentiment). It's a term that refers to the feeling that you may falling in love, that you feel love WILL BE in the air (not "is"). 

Now this one's a bit poetic. The first part of this term is the same as the pervious, but it's now attached to 焦げる (こげる・kogeru・to burn). It's the feeling of pain that comes with being madly in love. Basically, you love someone so much that you can almost feel your heart burn.

甘え (あまえ・amae) is a word based off of 甘い (あまい・amai・sweet). It's the act of letting your guards down, showing your "sweet side". It has a broad definition and not one act is defined as 甘え. It can be subtle, like you feel more at ease when you are with your significant other, or you actually act different (say, speak childishly) around people that you feel comfortable with.

A combination of the word 照れる (てれる・tereru・to be embarrassed) and 隠す (かくす・kakusu・to hide). Meaning, quite literally that. It's not necessarily just for relationships but if you read manga or watch anime, you've probably seen an example of this (ie. a character gives their crush a gift and says "I DON'T HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU, DON'T GET THE WRONG MESSAGE.") 

The literal translation of "I love you" is 愛してる (あいしてる・aishiteru) in Japanese. But there's a more common phrase 好き (すき・suki) this phrase is often translated into "I like you" or "to like", and that's true, but depending on the situation すき can mean both (or either) like or love. It's actually more similar to how "love" is used in English. "Oh my gosh, I LOVE chocolate" doesn't mean you are romantically in love with chocolate, it means you like chocolate. Similarly, if someone says 好き to you in Japanese, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't head-over-heels madly in love with you. 

Japanese Relationship Words That Don't Exist In English Typically in Japan, Valentine's Day is a day for women to give chocolates to men and/or friends. Men give back on "White Day" which is March 14.

Vocabulary Kanji Hiragana Romaji English 恋 こい koi crush, or love 予感 よかん yokan presentiment 焦げる こげる kogeru to burn 照れる てれる tereru to be embarrassed 隠す かくす kakusu to hide

Weired and Cool ギフトガイド

Weired and Cool ギフトガイド

It’s right around the holiday season, perhaps you’re already busy with some holiday shopping. This month, we’re talking about all the corky, awesome gadgets and おもちゃ (omocha・toys) from Japan! Perhaps it can be a helpful ギフトガイド (gifuto gaido・gift guide). 

The endless possibilities of ラジコン 
As a kid, one of my favorite toys was my ラジコン (らじこん・rajikon・short for “radio control” – RC toys). The newest feature to ラジコン is the winding charger. No batteries, just hook up your vehicle to the controller and start winding away (like the battery-less flash lights) and voila, your ラジコン is charged. The types out right now are geared towards younger kids and have very simple controls (wind forward to go straight, wind backwards to turn back) but this would be a good base to branch out from. 

Portable Rice Tube
That picture pretty much sums it up. It’s a portable rice tube, because a rice ball just isn’t portable enough. You stuff the tube with rice and filling, then close it up with a twisty bottom that helps you push out the rice as you eat it. Now you can fulfill your おにぎり (onigiri・rice ball) cravings while on the go! 

Weired and Cool ギフトガイド Smarthan made by Takara Tomy

For the fresh-squeezes juice lover 
Sarcasm doesn’t always work in writing, but given the nature of this month’s newsletter, this seems to be an appropriate time: Haven’t you always wished that you could just drink Grapefruit juice straight out of the fruit like with coconut juice? Well of course you have and there’s a solution!

There’s a gadget called グレフルチューチュー (gurefuru chu-chu-). グレフル is short for グレープフルーツ (gure-pu furu-tsu・grapefruit) and チューチュー (ちゅーちゅーchu-chu-) is an onomatopoeia to suck.

Basically, this gadget lets you drill a hole into a グレープフルーツ and then mash up the insides so you can drink the juice with a straw. 

If anything, watch the commercial. It has a stereotypical “crazy Japanese” theme song that’ll at least give you a chuckle. 

Weired and Cool ギフトガイド グレープフルーツ juicer


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
おもちゃ おもちゃ omocha toys
ラジコン  らじこん rajikon RC toys
おにぎり おにぎり onigiri rice ball
チューチュー ちゅーちゅ chu-chu- to suck

Second New Year? 年度末

Second New Year? 年度末

March is a very busy time of year in Japan. It's when the 年度 (ねんど・nendo・ Japanese fiscal year) ends to start a new. To be accurate, the end of the Japanese fiscal year, called 年度末 (ねんどまつ・nendomatsu・ "matsu" indicating "end") is on March 31st and 年度始め (ねんどはじめ・nendohajime・ "hajime" means beginning) is on April 1st. 

Second New Year? 年度末 年度末 is a busy time for Japanese businesses that need to balance their books 

There's no exact transition for 年度 in English. Most closely, it means "year" but is different than the 年 (ねん or とし・"nen" or "toshi"・ year) referring to the calendar years. 年度 is the "years" in English terms like, "fiscal year", "academic year", etc. While there are ways in Japanese to refer to specific year-terms (ie. 学校年度 (がっこうねんど・gakkou nendo・ school (or academic) year)), 年度 is an overarching word that refers to all of these generally. 

For companies and government workers 
For businesses and governments in Japan, 年度末 is a very busy time of year because they need to balance their books and prepare for the next 年度. For most office workers in departments that deal with budgets and money (ie. sales, accounting, finance, etc.), March/April is a time for long hours. Same goes for government employees. The Japanese yen tends to fluctuate in value around this time of year because of the last-minute movement of money and businesses dealing with new budgets and human resources decisions. 

For Schools 
In Japan, the 学校年度 or 学年度 (がくねんど・gaku nendo) for short starts in April. It's like June in the states, when teachers and students prepare for graduation,  but instead of having a couple months of summer break, they go right back in with the 新年度 (しんねんど・shinnendo・ new year) the next month. Most schools hold their graduations at the beginning of March and students will have a couple weeks of spring break. 

Second New Year? 年度末 March is the time for graduation for most Japanese schools.

For those unaffected by 年度  
For individual lucky enough to not be bombarded with work during this time of year, 年度末・年度始め is a pleasant time to enjoy the outdoors. The graduation and new 学年度, in Japan is commonly associated with the bloom of 桜 (さくら・sakura・ cherry blossoms). With the beginning of spring and warmer weather, people will have picnics by 桜 trees, called お花見 (おはなみ・ohanami・ literally "to look at flowers"). 


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
年度末  ねんどまつ nendomatsu end of fiscal year
年度始め ねんどはじめ nendohajime beginning of fiscal year
クール くーる ku-ru cour / television season
さくら sakura cherry blossoms

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