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Archive for the ‘Japanese Manners’ Category

I Have a Huge Announcement!

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Manners, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Japanese Subculture, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on March 24, 2016 at 3:45 am

大きな発
Ōki na happyō (a huge announcement)

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Today I have a big announcement to make. Japanese history nerds, this is something I’ve thought about for a long time. You see, I spend a lot of time walking around Tōkyō trying to see what obscure pieces of Edo I still find lingering. From time to time, I go on what I call 歴史散歩 rekishi sanpo history walks with my friends. When my friends visit from other countries I always show them around the city – often times focusing on aspects of the city that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

But over the years, I’ve been thinking… “Hey, why don’t WE walk around the city talking about Japanese history? How fun would it be to show people what I’ve found? How fun would it be to hang out with other people who want to see different historical spots and geek out together?”

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Red light districts. We can do that.

Japan This! History Walks

So today, I’m proud to announce the beginning of JapanThis! Guided Tours for History Nerds[i]. I’ve put together a small series of informal history walks that cater specifically to Japanese History Fans. Most of them focus on topics that have come up on JapanThis!.

Some of them are super nerdy, but some of them are inclusive enough to bring your friend or family. I’m working on more that expand on other aspects of the city, but I’m also working on setting up tours that go across the country and ones that even focus on particular eras! I’ve tried to make customization an option in most cases so I hope I can accommodate everyone’s budget. Also, since this is all informal, we can keep it real. I mean, if we visit any places related to Kiyokawa Hachirō, we’re gonna have to call a douche a douche.

Due to preparation, time, materials, and the possibility of changing my work schedule, there’s a very modest, suggested tip for each history walk. It’s super reasonable, so just hit me up via Facebook and we can discuss the details.

The main page for tours can be found on the menu at the top of the blog or by clicking this link. That page contains costs and recommended tips. Oh, also some comments from past customers!

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You either know the Kiyokawa reference or you don’t….

I’ve developed a ranking system in terms of how geeky a course is and how much time or walking you’d have to do. At the time being I have a few courses devoted to the graves of the shōguns – all of which could be combined into a 3 day combination package if you’re into that sort of thing. However, most of what I offer now are just simple one day intensive history walks of Edo-Tōkyō[ii] and a few cultural experiences. All tours will come with printed background information so you can brush up on the history. You’ll also get a PDF version e-mailed to you with links to relevant articles so you can easily access related articles on the go. Of course, I’ll be with you the whole time to answer your questions, help you with the language, or – god forbid – talk the police out of arresting you.

Here’s a breakdown of my rating system.

What does is mean?

Geek Ranking

☆☆☆☆☆

A low ranking means less obscure shit (you can bring a non-nerd), a high ranking means we’re going deeeeep (way off the beaten path).

Walking Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

I can walk for hours and never get tired. That’s a 5. Watching kabuki, that’s a 1 (or less).

Time Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

Are you a half-day whiney little bitch or are you ready to go ballz to the wallz?

Keep in mind, a low ranking doesn’t mean it’s boring and high ranking doesn’t mean it’s super cool. There’s no correlation. I’m just trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page as to what their getting into. If you have any questions, just ask. If you use a wheelchair or have any other difficulties with mobility, vision, or otherwise, contact me directly and I’m pretty sure I can sort you out. No problem. Everyone is welcome!

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Let’s Start with the Not-So-Nerdy Tours

These are tours made for Japanese history nerd traveling with friends or family.

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Light Crash Course in Edo-Tōkyō

Starts at Ryōgoku and finishes at Tōkyō Dome. Want to learn more about the history of Tōkyō? Have a traveling companion who is coming from zero but wants to learn a little bit? This might be the course for you!

Edo-Tōkyō Museum

The foremost museum on the history of the city. A fantastic insight into the evolution of the shōgun’s capital into one of the greatest economic powerhouses in the world.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

Edo was a city of 1 million people at its peak – the largest city in the world at the time by some accounts. It was also considered the Venice of East. This museum tells the story of how water played a major factor in the history of the city.

Kōraku-en Garden

This is one of the few daimyō gardens that still remain relatively intact from the Edo Period. It was on the grounds of the residence of the Mito Tokugawa. It was designed to change over the course of the 4 seasons. Bring a camera!!

Options

Eat chanko nabe, the staple food of sumō wrestlers. Eat takoyaki, a popular snack or drinking food. Eat both. May change the order of the course, but we can do it all!

Geek Ranking: ★★✬☆☆ 2.5
Walking Intensity: ★★☆☆☆ 2
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

edo bay

One of the few places you can see the original shoreline of Edo Bay

Quirky Tōkyō Museum Tour

Tōkyō has a lot of museums. Seriously. A lot! This tour hits up 4 of the most unique museums in the city. Unfortunately, most don’t provide comprehensive English support, but don’t worry. I got your back.

Ōmori Nori Museum

Learn about nori[iv] production and even get hands on practice at the making it the way people did in Pre-Modern Japan. Also, see Japan’s first manmade beach.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

This is seriously one of the most underrated museums in the world. It studies the history of water in Edo-Tōkyō, in particular, how did the shōgunate provide water and sewerage for a city of a million people?!

Tōkyō Parasitological Museum

Supposedly one of Tōkyō’s most popular date sites, this science museum looks at… yup… parasites! You can even buy one of your very own and smuggle it back into your country.

Meiji University Museum

We’ll only visit the wing of the museum dedicated crime, policing, sentencing, incarceration, torture, and execution – with an emphasis on the Edo Period.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

Personal transportation cost (we’ll use the subway)
Contact me via Facebook.

The hands on “nori experience” is first come first serve, so it needs to be book at least 2 months in advance. Believe it or not, it fills up super quick.
Also, the museum hours change by season.
The Parasitological Museum is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays.
I’ll work closely with you to make this happen!

 

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Ready to get yo ass cultured?

Kabuki – From Edo’s Low Style to Meiji’s High Style

Ginza

Early lunch; discussion about shitamachi/yamanote culture and kabuki.

Kabuki-za

3 kabuki shows, high class Japanese sweets

Option 0

Return to hotel

Option 1

Cheap Shōwa Era dinner, drinks, & a lot of vibe in Yūraku-chō

Option 2

High end Shōwa Era tempura dinner and a lot of vibe in Ginza

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ✬☆☆☆☆ .5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

Price varies greatly depending on number of people and proximity of seats and if you add an option. Since there are many factors involved, we should discuss this in detail.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Shōgun Courses

There are 3 of them! You can do one. You can do two. Hell, you can do all three!
And that’s not branding. We’re literally gonna look at shōgun-related shit.

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Grave of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Edo from Ōta Dōkan to the Bakumatsu
Shōgun Graves Part 1

Starts at Dōkan’yama or Nishi-Nippori and finishes at Ueno Station spanning the 1440’s to the 1860’s. We’ll see many shrines and temples and a sprawling necropolis that will blow your mind. I’ll also get you the closest you can get to the shōguns’ graves in Ueno[v]. We’ll also see sites associated with the Battle of Ueno which destroyed much of the area in the 1860’s resulting in the building of Ueno Park.

Dōkan’yama

Suwa Shrine, former satellite castle of Ōta Dōkan and Edo Period cherry blossom spot

Yanaka

 

Yanaka Cemetery and environs; graves of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Higuchi Ichiyō, Date Munenari, and Takahashi O-den

Ten’nō-ji

Main hall, pagoda ruins

Kan’ei-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, post-Boshin War main hall, pagoda, Tōshō-gū, Ghost Lantern, Ueno Big Buddha, Benzaiten, Shinobazu Lake, Kiyomizu Kan’non-dō, Shōgitai Grave and other sites associated with the Battle of Ueno, Saigō Takamori Statue (and possibly access to the Aoi no Ma)

Uguisudani

See a shitamachi red light district, place where Katsu Kokichi[vi] retired and wrote his memoires

Nezu Shrine

One of Tōkyō’s most beautiful shrines

Option

Visit an Edo Period tōfu shop or a Shōwa Period soba shop

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity
: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity
: ★★★★☆ 4

Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Grave of Tokugawa Hidetada

A Walk from Edo Castle to Shiba
Shōgun Graves Part 2

Starts in the Outer Moat area of Edo Castle and finishes at Azabu-Jūban. Roughly follow the path the shōgun and his retinue would take from the castle to his funerary temples at Zōjō-ji . Food options exist along the way, so we can discuss by email.

Edo Castle

Hibiya Gate, Saiwai Gate, Shibaguchi Gate, Sukiyabashi Gate/Yūraku-chō, Edo Magistrate’s Office, Sotobori/Marunouchi/Daimyō Alley overview, Tiger Gate

Shinbashi

Remains of original Shinbashi Bridge, Original Shinbashi Station, Karasumori Shrine, Shiogama Shrine, Red Brick Way, remains of Sendai Domains lower & middle residences (Date clan), site of Asano Naganori’s seppuku

Zōjō-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns, O-nari Gate, Ietsugu’s Niten Gate, remains of Ietsugu’s innermost stone wall, consolidated graves of the shōguns (there is a museum with regularly changing exhibits – if interested), cemetery for dead babies, Hidetada’s main gate, lesser known remains of Hidetada’s mausoleum, Tōshō-gū, a sakura planted by Iemitsu

Akabanebashi

Fushimi Sanpō Inari Shrine, Shin’ami-chō, upper residence of Kurumae Domain (Arima clan), Kurumae fire watchtower

Bakumatsu Murder Bridges

Site of Henry Heusken’s murder, site of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s murder

Additional Options

Tōkyō Tower; graveyard of the women of Nanbu Domain, Zōjō-ji Museum, shopping/eating in Azabu-Jūban and/or Roppongi Hills – Edo Period shops are in the area.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

[viii]
Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu

A Day and Night in Nikkō
Shōgun Graves Part 3

We start at Tōkyō Station, go to Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture for sightseeing and fun, stay in at traditional Japanese inn with a hot spring, then return to Tōkyō the next morning. This is the final resting place of the 1st and 3rd Tokugawa shōguns and the best extant example of shōgunal mausoleums. This tour is great for anyone, but especially good for people whose traveling companions aren’t history nerds but want to do some must-see sightseeing and have a really unique Japanese experience.

Rin’nō-ji
(Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Taiyū-in)

Grave of the found of Rin’nō-ji and origin of all Buddhist activity in the area, Roku Butenzō – the oldest Buddhist monuments in Nikkō, Rin’nō-ji – the temple controls most of the area, Tōshō-gū (grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu), Taiyū-in (grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu). Tōshō-gū is one of the top 5 spots in Japan!

Edo Wonderland

A theme park that recreates the spirit of Edo in architecture, costume, shows, and hands on experience. All of the staff is in character, so they offer guests the chance to cosplay in character! When you’re done, you can enjoy a beer or too watching the sun set over “Edo” in the mountains.

Relax in a Japanese hot spring

Have traditional dinner and a bath (or 2 or 3) in natural, geothermally heated water; get a good night’s sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese room.

Options

If you want, a traditional Buddhist vegetarian course meal can be arranged.

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

There is a Japanese proverb, “Don’t say something is ‘splendid’ until you’ve seen Nikkō” because of its sublime beauty. This may not be the nerdiest destination, but it will definitely make a big impression. In a addition, a famous Kyōto and Nikkō tōfu specialty is widely available.

Final cost will vary depending on number of people, options, etc., but I’m fairly sure I can keep things reasonable, especially for groups![ix]
Contact me via Facebook.

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Other Tours!

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Scenic Gardens, Tokugawa Palaces, and Zōjō-ji

Starts at the seaside villa remains of the shōguns, continues to the seaside villa of a high ranking retainer of the shōguns, and ends at one of 2 funerary temples of the shōguns. This is a fairly hands-off course so you’re free to explore at your own pace, but I’m available for everyone at all times.

Former Hama Palace

This was the shōgun’s seaside villa. It retains a unique salt water moat system and Edo Period hunting grounds. It also offers a beautiful view of the city and nature. We can enjoy tea and Japanese sweets a teahouse built in the middle of a lake.

Shiba Rikyū Garden

Originally a seaside fort of the Hōjō clan of Odawara, it was later a daimyō residence of the Ōkubo clan (who originated from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland, Mikawa Province).

Zōjō-ji

We can approach Zōjō-ji the way it was intended to be approached, from the sea. We’ll pass the Great Gate and then move on for a look at a funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns.

Options

Feeling a little garden crazy? We could easily swap out Zōjō-ji for 1 or 2 other Edo Period gardens. Perfect for photographers interested in Japanese nature!

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★☆☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

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Ready to go somewhere really dark?

The 3 Great Execution Grounds of Edo

I think this will be popular! If you want to see the dark and macabre side of Edo-Tōkyō, you’re not alone. I’m as fascinated with it as I am repulsed by it. Depending on where your hotel is, I will re-arrange the order for the most convenient order – though my personal favorite is Denma-chō→Kozukappara→Suzugamori[x].

Suzugamori

See the killing floor, the posts for burnings at the stake and crucifixions, the well for cleaning heads before display, Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Denma-chō

See the “supposed” killing floor, monuments to Yoshida Shōin (who was a prisoner here); discuss why Yoshida Shōin was a douche.

Kozukappara

See the killing floor of the worst prison in Edo, the Kubikiri Jizō (the last thing the beheaded saw before they died), Ekō-in (temple for the repose of the dead), Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5[xi]

Contact me via Facebook.

 

I’m Working on a few New Tours

Please remember, I’m just starting this up and I’m doing this all on my own. I have a lot to learn and I’m starting to reach out to other people to try and make a partnership that will help me expand my offerings to longer tours, and even nationwide tours. Imagine a 4-5 day nationwide Shinsengumi tour? How fun would that be??!

Anyways, I really think the sky’s the limit with this. In my mind, it’s the ultimate way to bond with you guys – face to face, high fives and all. And after a serious “thank you” for your support, let’s go take a look at this city – no, this country – that I absolutely love! Also, if you are looking for a more personalized experience, let me know. I’m willing to make custom tours.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you like this idea, share with a friend!

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[i] JK, actually it’s just Japan This! History Walks because that other name is long as hell and we’re just gonna be chilling out seeing some cool obscure parts of the city and geeking about Japanese history and culture.
[ii] This is 100% negotiable at the moment. Since I’m just doing this in my spare time, I maaaaaaay be able to offer you far more customizable tours. Just let me know what you want.
[iii] I don’t believe these are actual terms used in the real tourism industry…
[iv] An edible seaweed. If you eat sushi rolls, the wrapper is nori.
[v] Working on getting better access, but the area has been pretty much off limits for a long time. They don’t even allow photography in the off limits areas, even if you can get in.
[vi] Son of Katsu Kaishū, the father of the Japanese Navy.
[vii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[viii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[ix] Nikkō is in the mountains, so I don’t recommend winter at all. Also, the area is extremely crowded in autumn because people come to see the autumn leaves. If you want to come in the fall, I recommend booking 6 months or more to guarantee a comfortable bed and hot bath.
[x] In terms of subway use, it’s an impractical course unless you do alone or unless it’s a one-on-one tour. For groups, I have to find the most cost efficient/time efficient route for everyone.
[xi] Because a good deal of your time will be taking trains to the next execution ground. I’m good at conversation, so it won’t be boring but expect to change trains a few times lol.

Japanese Manners (part 3)

In Japanese Manners on February 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

In my commute back from work today, I thought of some more Japanese manners that I hadn’t mentioned before.

If you haven’t seen parts 1 and 2 yet, please take a look:

PART ONE – 4 manners that you absolutely must know when visiting Japan.
PART TWO – 4 more manners that will help you enjoy the culture experience of Japan more.

Today’s manners are little things that you may or may not know, some might seem trivial to non-Japanese.

Using Chopsticks

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chopsticks may be kawaii, but only if you have good manners.

I’m going to assume you know how to use these already, if not, get 2 pencils and check out some videos on YouTube.
However, there is some etiquette which may or may not be self-evident.

1Don’t play air drums with your chopsticks
2Don’t tap your chopsticks together to make noise
3Don’t hover your chopsticks over food while deciding what to choose. Choose what you want first, and then pick it up.

Those three are all considered childish and uncouth. These next 2 manners are actually taboos relating to the dead and can be extremely offensive or off-putting and as such you should avoid them at all costs.

1Two people shouldn’t touch the same item at the same time with chopsticks. (At a Japanese funeral, after cremation, the small bone fragments are gathered from the ashes in this manner. The bones are then brought to the family grave. If you do this people will be aghast!)
2Don’t stick your chopsticks into the rice. Always set them on the side of the bowl or dish. (In Japanese cemeteries, rice bowls with chopsticks stuck in them are left as ceremonial offerings for the dead.)

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pleeeease don’t be THAT guy!

 

Visiting Shrines and Temples

Japan has a kind of syncretic polytheistic religious history. The native religion of the Japanese isles is Shintō. It’s polytheistic in that there are many 神 (kami – usually translated as “gods” or “spirits”) who reside in various special spots all over the country. See a beautiful mountain? There is a special kami there. See a funky looking tree? There is probably a kami there too. A nice vista from the side of a hill? Most like there’s a kami living there too. And so on.

Kami are enshrined in… um, shrines. A shrine can be identified by a torī (you can think of it as the entrance to the sacred space), relatively plain, wooden architecture and a fountain for purifying your hands.

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shrine on you crazy diamond!

Early in Japanese history, Buddhism was imported to Japan. Buddhism doesn’t have kami, rather it focuses on the examples of real people who have reached enlightenment. Before the Meiji Period (let’s say industrialized Japan), there was a syncretism (blending) of Shintō and Buddhism. Nikkō Tōshōgū is a prime example of this mixed style. It’s essentially a shrine, but it houses the enlightened spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was very much a real person.

A temple can be identified by a large wooden gate (or sometimes just a fence), “heavy” architecture, usually with much more decoration than a shrine. There is often a large incense burner in front of the building.

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note there’s no torii, there is an lamp-like looking incense burner. you can’t see the main gate, but this temple has one, but it blocks the main hall’s view.

 

SO HOW DO I DO IT?

Visiting a Shrine

1Walk through the torī.
2 From here on in, be respectful. No shouting, no smoking. Taking pictures is probably OK, but be aware that some particularly important shrines may have no flash/picture rules in some areas, keep your eyes open.
3Go to the fountain. (I think it’s usually on the left side of the entrance… but maybe they have in other places).  Pick up the ladle.  Pour the water over your left hand. Make sure your hands are outside of the fountain, don’t put “dirty” water back into the pool. Then repeat with the other hand. Put the ladle away. (Just a quick note, on cold days, most people totally skip this part because… it’s cold. Know what I mean?)
4Go up the stairs to the main hall.
5If there is a hanging bell or gong thingy, ring it a few times to get the kami’s attention.
5Throw a coin into the offering box (10 yen is the norm, but you can do whatever).
6Bow 45° twice.
7Clap your hands twice.
8Bow deeply again once and when you come up, put your hands together, palm-to-palm and pray… or if you’re an atheist like me, stand there silently and pretend.
9You’re done!

Visiting a Temples

Much easier than a shrine – cuz it’s not Japanese. lol

0 – After entering the temple grounds, be respectful and quiet.
1If there is a large incense burner, go up to it and with cupped hands, pull some of the smoke on your body (in particular, the parts you think need a little “help”).  If there isn’t much smoke coming out of there, go buy some first from the temple girls and light it and put it in the burner before trying to hog all the smoke for yourself.
2Go up the stairs to view the temple treasures and sacred objects.
3Toss a coin or two into the offering box.
4 – There are no kami in Buddhism, so it would be stupid to bow at a bunch of stuff, however Japan is pretty much an atheistic country and a lot of people don’t actually know the difference between shrine etiquette and temple etiquette, so you WILL see people bowing and doing shrine stuff. Normal. But basically, the correct etiquette is to throw the coin and, without bowing, pray with your palms together, then leave.

As always, thanks for reading. Also, if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in the future, please let me know. I’m all ears.

More to come soon!

Japanese Manners (part 2)

In Japanese Manners on February 7, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Are you ready for a few more Japanese manner tips that will let you travel in Japan like a pro?

More Manners That Will Make You Look Like a Pro:

Saying Please
Even you can’t speak any other Japanese, when you order or ask for something; you might want to say onegai shimasu (please) to score some “super cool foreigner” points.
If you want to get someone’s attention, say sumimasen (excuse me/I’m sorry).
If you bump someone in the station or realize you made a mistake or did something careless or stupid, you can also say sumimasen.

Pro-tip 1: After your food has arrived, before you start eating say itadakimasu (a humble way to say “thanks for the food”).

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A Ramen Shop Is Not a Hangout
After you finish your ramen, get the hell out. Most shops are small, with limited seating so customer turnover is important. Even if the shop is pretty much empty, hanging out there ordering more beers and chatting just looks weird – like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Pro-tip: Slurp your noodles to show how much you like them. This applies to all noodles in Japan. Slurp away.

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Don’t Stop In Front Of The Ticket Gate in Train Stations
This is just freaking common sense, people. And I see Japanese people do it too. When a Japanese person does it, they’re just a dumbass. When a foreigner does, you’re a fucking gaijin and we all look bad.
If you have to stop to put away your train pass or look around for something, walk to an out of the way spot and do what you gotta do, don’t block the ticket gate and scratch your balls.

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Sneezing, Coughing and Generally Being Sick
Most Japanese are kireizuki (clean freaks), so if you’re on a train or something, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. This should be common sense… unless your mom was born in a barn.

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Pro-tip: Wear a mask to keep your nasty germs away from other people.

If you liked this, please visit the much more important Japanese Manners Part One!

UPDATE: There’s more!  So if you want to learn more Japanese manners, check out Japanese Manners Part Three.

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Japanese Manners (part 1)

In Japanese Holidays, Japanese Manners, Travel in Japan on February 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Going to Japan for the first time? There are a lot of manners and commonsensical behaviors that people do here and just take for granted that everyone knows. But the fact is that if you’re visiting Japan for the first time, you probably don’t know most (or maybe any) of the local customs.

If I had a 1 yen coin for every time I saw a foreigner doing something “wrong,” I’d have a fuckload of 1 yen coins. They get in the way, mess up everyone’s routine, or just do things that will annoy everyone around them. None of these things is the end of the world; you can be oblivious and still have a great time. After all, ignorance is bliss.

But if you take the time to learn a few basics, you’ll look like a pro, people will think “what an urbane and polite foreigner,” and in my honest opinion, you’ll have a lot more fun because of the insight into the culture. I really believe the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans” is some of the best advice ever. You’ll experience Japan more deeply and you’ll come away with a so much more profound experience.

As I said, there are a lot of “rules” (or “manners,” if you will). But they’re not hard to learn. After a few basics, you’ll start to see patterns and probably be able to figure out the rest for yourself. I’m going to start my list with the big mistakes that I see tourists make all the time, then I’ll go into the smaller things.

4 Manners You Must Know In Japan

Walking & Using Escalators
Walk on the left side of the streets and hallways.
Stand on the left side of elevators; the right side is for people in a hurry to walk.
I see foreigners standing side by side relaxing on the handrails blocking the flow of traffic all the time. There’s a long line of people standing behind them looking irritated about being slowed down.

Pro-tip: In Osaka, for some strange reason, the elevator rule is reversed. People stand on the right side and pass on the left. Often you’ll see Tokyo people doing it wrong here – sometimes intentionally as a snub – so if you do it correctly, you’ll be doing better than even some Japanese!
tokyo elevato

Getting On Trains
Make a line. Japanese trains stop at the same spots, the doors are marked on the platforms or across on the facing wall.
Stand to the right or left of the door, so you don’t block people getting off the trains.
People exit the doors in the middle of the left & right lines first. After everyone has gotten off the train, the people waiting will board the train.
The Japanese like lines and order. It’s this sort of behavior that keeps people calm when there are typhoons, earthquakes, etc.
It’s really just common sense. Let people off first, then get on yourself. Stand to the sides so you don’t block people. You can parlay this skill to every other situation in Japan.

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Silence is Golden
Don’t talk loudly anywhere (but especially on trains).
Don’t sit across from your friend on the subways and have a loud conversation. Sit next to each other and talk at a reasonable volume.
People are generally quiet in elevators when unknown people get in with them.
Always keep your phone in silent mode (vibrate), called “Manner Mode” in Japanese, especially in public places.
Don’t talk on your phone on the train. They even make announcements saying this. If you have to take a phone call, get off the train and talk on the platform. The next train will come soon anyways.

Pro-tip: Don’t take phone calls at the table, step outside. You’ll score lots of “cool foreigner” points for this one.

TS3G0247

Saying Thank You
Don’t say arigato to staff. They are not your friends. You say arigatō gozaimasu (polite) or dōmo arigatō gozaimasu (super polite).

Pro-tip 1: After a meal, instead of saying arigatō gozaimasu, you can say go-chisō-sama desu, which means something like “Thank you for the bad ass feast.”

Pro-tip 2: The Japanese bow a lot. You don’t have to do a 45 degree bow or anything, but whenever you feel appreciation for someone, give a little bow or at least a nod.

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There they are.

4 rules that will help you enjoy Japan while the Japanese enjoy you too.

If you wanna go the extra distance, I have a few more rules that will help you!
Here: Japanese Manners 2

 

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To Bow or Not to Bow, the Gaijin Dilemma

In Japanese Manners on June 19, 2010 at 5:05 am

I’m a bower.

I don’t think I did it before I came to Japan, but within a few hours of being here, it all clicked.  It suits me.  While my form might not be as good as those who grew up with bowing all around them, I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for the TPO of the act in most of its forms by now.

Bowing is integral to Japanese society.  There are casual bows among friends, casual bows among people you don’t know, casual business bows, formal business bows, formal bows, very formal bows, and bows that are done to demean yourself and submit.

To westerners — particularly Americans — who view bows as humiliating, bowing all seems the same.  It’s an demonstration of weakness or subservience.

I argue that this is not the case in practice.  It’s simply an action designed to reduce social tension.  While it is self-effacing, it isn’t usually self-debasing.  The fact that most bows are reciprocated, it means both parties have agreed to lower their status for the sake of politeness.

Granted, there are fake bows.  Some of the most gracious bows I’ve ever seen are clearly choreographed.  Everyone knows it’s fake, but the occasion calls for a good bow and nothing says “we humbly accept your money, as much as you have” than a well-timed very formal 45 degree angle bow betweeen business people or at a high-end Tokyo department store.

Many moons ago, when I first visited Japan, I was encouraged by the people around me to return bows and be very respectful of Japanese traditions.  I really took this to heart and adapted “When in Rome…” to “When in Japan…”.   This was good enough.  If somebody bowed at me, I’d bow back in the most formal way I knew.

THE KONBINI-BOW

Receiving change at the convenience store, I’d get a “Domo arigatou gozaimasu!” with a half-assed konbini-bow.  I’d return that with a really white half-assed 30 degree or less bow.

A friend pointed out to me how he’d often seen foreigners (he used the word “gaijin”)  bow too much.  While I disagreed that bowing too much was a bad thing, I do agree that if you don’t have a good feel for it, your timing and the appropriateness of your bow will fall into question…  or, well, just look weird.

I fixed my “konbini-bowing” by making it more of a Japanese head nod but upping the politeness of my Japanese.  Well, that’s not really true…  I just kinda mumble あざーす now…  Oh well…

THE “LET’S NOT SEE SO MUCH OF EACH OTHER” BOW

Passing people that you’ve already talked to in a restaurant or manga cafe.  The workers will be on their best behavior and if you make eye contact, they will bow and acknowledge you.  Most Japanese people avoid eye contact and just walk past them.  I generally acknowledge them with a casual bow.  Although, I’ve noticed after the first bow,  they tend to avert their eyes and I avoid you until you come up to them.  It’s not rudeness, it’s just they don’t want to get up in your face like American workers are forced to do.

THE “GOT IT” BOW

When people say something to you, like “Good Morning” or “O-tuskare-sama desu.”  My experience is that, no matter how polite the Japanese is, casual encounters in the hallways or entrance of the company are treated as casual, and a head nod plus some polite Japanese does the trick.

WAZZUP, WAZZUP?

In parts of America, particular the Midwest and South, we do a head nod to passer-by’s to kind of say “wazzup, we’re cool, yo.”  But the Tokyo people don’t do this at all.  Basically, you’re ignored on the street by passer-by’s.   So resist the temptation to give a heads up to anybody who passes by you.

“Well, it’s just friendly.  If I do it, there’s nothing wrong with it.” you might be saying to yourself.  Well, that’s not exactly true.   Nodding your head as a casual greeting to an unknown passer-by is probably interpretted by my Tokyo with a deeper mean.  It looks like a casual bow.  Maybe you don’t know that person, it could be offensive, but I think not.  The main thing is it would be a little bit “icky.”  Sort of like, “why are you being so friendly to me in this 2 second interval that we pass each other?”

“EXCHANGING BUSINESS CARDS”

I could write a class on this, except I’m not really qualified to it.  Actually, exchanging any document with another Japanese person in a formal situation requires two hands and some semblance of a bow depending on the status of the people involved and the transaction.  The junior ranking and female participants may do a bow very close to 45 degree angles.

Business bows are very formal, and most Japanese who join a large company are forced to go throw new recruit training which among other things, teaches correct bowing edict.  They’ll learn things such as how far down to go, how long to stay, how many repetitions are required (if any) and of course the difference between male and females bows.  Of this last point the only thing I’m aware of is that women tend to put their hands over their crotch — but I think this is because they are carrying a bag/purse/case and it looks unsightly to swing your bag around to one side.  I dunno, I’m just guessing, but it makes sense to me.

THE WAKATTA BOW

Among friends, you’ll see little head nod bows accopanied by “hai” (yes), “un” (yeah/ok), “wakatta” (got it).

I could go on and on and on about bows, but the best way is to see them in action yourself.  A quick search on YouTube should yield results or better yet, one day in Japan.  Also, if you watch samurai movies you can see the really traditional bows like “dogeza.”  A dogeza is the most formal bow, prostrated before your superior with you face nearly touching the floor.  In old Japan had many uses, in modern Japan, it’s pretty much for apologies or begging.  You hardly see it anymore.  I happened to see it once when a salary man had offended his superiors at a drinking party.  He apologized, did a dogeza and begged for forgiveness and then left the premises.  Wow.  Even some of my Japanese friends have never seen a real dogeza!  LOL.

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Japan Gives the Worst Head

In Japanese Food, Japanese Manners, Rants, Travel in Japan on June 10, 2010 at 11:37 am

Living in a foreign country means you’ll always come across things that are done differently.  But generally speaking, any place you go on Earth an ice cold beer is always an ice cold beer.

I haven’t written in depth about Japanese beer before — because, while I am definitely a beer lover, I’m by no means an expert.  But Japan has some great beers!  All the Japanese brands of real beer are very delicious, smooth and drinkable.  And Japanese bartenders pride themselves on pouring a proper pint of Guinness too!  Most restaurants that serve Guinness actually have notices posted somewhere near the bar to show that the bartenders are certified to pour Guinness properly.  They even put a shamrock design into the head.

japanese guinness beer

a “perfect pint” complete with shamrock design poured into the head

On a Guinness, a nice head is always appreciated.  That head doesn’t dissipate quickly and tingles your lips and gives a creamy goodness to each sip.

But the Japanese bar owners obsess on pouring a beautiful looking head on each and every beer no matter what the brand or style.  Granted, it looks lovely if you receive your beer in a timely fashion.  But soon it dissipates and you’re left with a very sad empty space — often two or three fingers deep — of air.  And by “air” I mean “NOT BEER.”  And by “not beer” I mean “seriously, it’s not beer, even though you paid for it.”

3 styles of ebisu beer

they look delicious! they taste delicious! but are you getting your money’s worth?

In America, if you served a beer with a head 3 fingers deep you’d probably get it sent right back asking to tip it off properly with, um, you know, beer.  In NYC and parts of the UK or Australia, you’re likely to get the beer thrown back in your face — pint glass and all.

japanese bar fight

yeah, that’s right. hide under the bar, you little shit! your bad pouring technique is what got us into this mess in the first place!

When I first visited Japan in winter 2003, I took the head with a grain of salt.  I’m in another country.  I couldn’t speak a word of Japanese.  I felt some social pressure to just go along and not cause any problems.  But towards the end of my almost 2 month stay, I was DJing at a party as a personal favor to a friend.  It wasn’t a club gig.  There was no money involved.  Not even free beer.  It was for her university circle (like a social club) and I didn’t know anybody except my friend.

I kept ordering beer to loosen up, and kept getting tiny plastic cups full of Asahi Super Dry or something.  But each tiny cup had a massive head on it.  After my second beer, I was fed up.  I asked how to say “without head” and decided to make my first attempt at complaining in Japanese.

When I got next beer, I pointed at the white froth on top and said 「泡なしで」 and waited for the guy to go “sorry about that, let me fix this for you.”  But instead I got a blank stare that said “without head?  what’s that???”

My friend explained to him my request and the bartender, seeming to understand, took the cup of beer and proceeded to dump it out.  All of it.

I was shocked.  Just pour out the head and pour in beer, you don’t have to waste it! Isn’t that one of the seven mortal sins? Oh yeah, he’s probably a Buddhist…  Anyways…  He didn’t have to pour the whole thing out and start over again.  Sheeeesh!

Then he poured a new one and handed me what looked like a carbon copy of the first.

泡なしで、お願いします」 (no bubbles… please!)

Again, with the same confused stare back at me, he took the cup of beer, dumped it out and re-poured it — capping it off again with a lovely head.  A lovely head that I had just asked him twice to not pour.

My friend again tried to explain the situation to this bozo and he listened attentively, seemingly understanding everything.  He then poured out the beer, re-poured it and capped it off with the same perfect head.

don't waste beer

every time you waste a beer, god kills a kitten

He explained to my friend that it’s a policy to pour beer like that and he could get in trouble for pouring headless beers.  (I was thinking, you’d be in much more trouble with some of my British mates if they saw you dumping out beer after beer like a bloody wanker).

I didn’t know the word しょうがない at that time, but looking back, this was just one of those しょうがない moments.  I just had to let it go and move on with my life.  Getting worked up about this issue wasn’t going to help the situation.

A few years later I told the story to a colleague of mine who told me that he’d heard about a lawsuit a few years ago in which a man tried to sue a bar for refusing to pour him beers without a head.  In court, the defense showed that the alcohol content of the bubbles was the same as or higher than (I forget which) that of the actual beer.  The court then ruled that he was not being ripped off, but actually getting his money’s worth.

need i say more? (why yes, i need say more… please continue reading…)

At the time, I accepted the story as plausible.  But now that I think about it, it’s gotta be an urban legend told by ex-pats trying to rationalize the ubiquitous refusal by bar staff to pour “a proper pint.”  And by “proper” I mean “one with actual beer instead of 3 fingers of quickly dissipating bubbles.”  It’s gotta be bullshit.  I mean, the Japanese are not particularly litigious, like Americans.  The costs involved to start a lawsuits are extremely high and the cash payouts are extremely low.  All the guy would probably win would be the right to get a headless beer anywhere in Japan.  This would be a great hit to take for the benefit of all beer lovers across the country, but who the fuck is that selfless? Furthermore, I’m no chemist, but I’m very skeptical that the alcohol content in the bubbles would be higher than regular beer, or that such a bizarre demonstration of scientific-legal acrobatics would be convincing.

Anyways, I couldn’t find anything on the web to corroborate this story.

So I’ve totally made peace with the fact that I can’t get a “proper pint” in Tokyo — no matter how much it irks me . And it really does irk me if I’m drinking 大ジョッキ, the extra-large sized beers in some izakaya.  As you can imagine, those beers come with proportionally extra-large sized heads.

I can see the rationale behind wanting to save money by charging full price for a beer then skimming a bit of beer off the top.  I can see management justifying in their own minds the aesthetic beauty of a cold mug of beer with a creamy head at the top.  It does look good!!

ON A POSTER!!!!

it really does look good… on a poster.

But when a customer calls you out on it, I can’t see any manager actually justifying a policy that states that you can’t get a beer without a head because…  well, you just can’t justify that kind of heinous sin.

And this in the country where the saying “the customer is king” is rendered as “the customer is god.”
お客さんは神様

After 5 years of living in Japan, the only reason I bring this up now is because the other day I was at T.G.I.Friday’s in Shibuya enjoying a full rack of baby-back ribs with a frosty glass of Premium Malts or whatever beer they serve there.  As I was pointing out the extra-large sized head on the extra-large sized beer to my girlfriend, something caught my attention on the menu.  You know how fine print jumps out at you while you’re eating ribs, right?

I know the picture isn’t very good, so if you can’t make out what it says, I’ll include the transcription at the bottom.

japanese beer no head

now that i think about it, is the “no head” option only for pitchers?

(I would include a transcription of the Japanese, but I can’t actually make it out due to the crappy resolution of the camera on the iPhone 3G)

We are serving No Head Draft Beer as these prices: (sic)

THE PREMIUM MALT’S
(M)  +¥150        (L) +¥200
MAGNUM DRY
(M)  +¥100        (L) +¥150

Oh, and just for comparison…
Here’s an (L) sized beer.  I didn’t touch it.  I just let the head settle on it’s own and then took this picture.    That’s how much beer THEY DON’T SERVE YOU.  And if you want it, you have to pay for them to fill that “extra space.”

TGIFriday JAPAN BEER

you call that beer? (say with crocodile dundee accent)

Makes me wanna beat somebody over the head with that heavy-ass glass!!!

If you think I’ve been to heavy handed in this rant, or have your own “bad head” story, leave a comment and let’s discuss.

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