The Tokyo train system is probably the best in the world. This may not even be a complete map (or at least the JR Lines don't seem to be labeled indivdually....)

Tokyo Train Line Names

Most of the train lines in Tōkyō have names based on whatever major area they originated/terminated – or at least stopped at. For example, the Marunouchi Line’s most important stations were in the former Marunouchi (Daimyō Alley) and the Yamanote Line connected centers of the “new Yamanote.[ii]” Some of the more ambitious, longer train lines have names that describe their start/stop points in general terms. This type of name usually reflects the tendency of the Japanese language to make new matches out of existing kanji.

Most of these names are self-evident to the Japanese, especially people who live and/or work in and around Tōkyō. But many of these names may be slightly mysterious to foreigners. Continue reading Tokyo Train Line Names

Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 1

Japanese Top 10 Songs of Summer (part 1) This list is divided into 2 parts. The first part is a little more traditional, or at least songs that you’ll associate with summer because they only are heard in the summer or because they are about the summer. The second half is made of songs I think sounds awesome when chilling at the beach or a barbecue. PART 1 #1 阿波よしこの Awa Yoshikono This is the song the accompanies the most famous of the 盆踊り Bon Odori dances. The dance and this incarnation of the song originated in 徳島県 Tokushima-ken Tokushima … Continue reading Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 1

Samurai Archives Podcast (part 1)

So……… yeah. Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may have seen my giddy posts about doing a podcast with some of the guys from Samurai Archives. I finally got to do it and although I was super nervous to talk with them, it actually was the most normal and natural thing ever. Three dudes geeking out on Japanese History. It was awesome. In the music business, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most inspiring people ever. Now, JapanThis has taken me into a totally other world, in which I am honored to … Continue reading Samurai Archives Podcast (part 1)

Free Wifi for Travelers in Japan

So you’re planning a trip to Japan. You have a smartphone or PC and you’re worried about only having wifi in your hotel room. Flets will give you access to their hotspots around Tokyo (and some other cities). It might not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And it’s FREE! Continue reading Free Wifi for Travelers in Japan

Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 2)

Today I continue with Part 2 of “Two Famous Murders in my Neighborhood.” Last time we talked about the assassination of interpreter, Henry Heusken. Today, we’ll talk about the douchiest 志士 shishi (men of high purpose) of the Bakumatsu, Kiyokawa Hachiro who was killed in Azabu-Juban. Continue reading Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 2)

Check Out These Japanese Castles!

I’ve talked about Edo Castle quite a bit on Japan This! If you wanna see some great pictures and descriptions of Edo Castle and other Japanese Castles, please check out It’s a bad ass site and I know you’ll love the shit out of it! #japanesecastles #japanesehistory #japan #castle #twinglish Continue reading Check Out These Japanese Castles!

The Difference Between Donkeys and Oxen

In yesterday’s blog, Why is Hanzomon called Hanzomon?, I posted this picture: In the picture comments, I said something about “donkey people” as a joke. Someone pointed out that these are actually oxen. I know. It actually cracked me up that I got e-mails about this. Not so much that I wanted people to think I didn’t know the difference between a donkey and an ox as much as I was happy that people ere actually reading Japan This! Rest assured, it was just a joke. I know the difference between donkeys and oxen. lol Oh, and thanks for reading! Continue reading The Difference Between Donkeys and Oxen

Why is Shinjuku called Shinjuku?

新宿 Shinjuku (New Shuku → New Post Town) The word 宿 shuku (宿場 shuku-ba “rest town”) was used in the Edo Period to refer to post towns on the highway system connecting various feudal domains. When a certain daimyō built his lower residence in the area, a new post town was created on the Kōshū Kaidō post road and named “new post town.” The daimyō family who lived here was called 内藤 (Naitō), so the name of the town became Naitō–Shinjuku (New Shuku Naito). The name Naito-Shinjuku persisted until the 1920’s. As a post town, there would have been many places to drink and get laid. … Continue reading Why is Shinjuku called Shinjuku?

Japanese Manners (part 3)

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 I’m going to assume you know how to use these already, if not, get 2 pencils and check … Continue reading Japanese Manners (part 3)

Japanese Manners (part 1)

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 … Continue reading Japanese Manners (part 1)

Using Japanese Emoji on Facebook Update

UPDATE: Due to constant updates in iOS, the information in this blog post is no longer relevant.  (3/25/2013) A few months ago, I described how to enable the Japanese keyboard on an iPhone to access the Emoji characters.  It’s not difficult to do, but if you don’t need a Japanese keyboard, it seemed kind of silly to install it just to get those Emoji. But with iOS 4.3.5, you can enable Emoji in any country, on any iPhone without installing the Japanese keyboard.  It’s super easy to do, so get out your iPhone and let’s do this. Just as stated … Continue reading Using Japanese Emoji on Facebook Update

Ramen References for the People

Just a quick follow up to my TOP 5 RAMEN SHOPS IN TOKYO. Before I try a new ramen shop, or if I get a craving for ramen but I’ll be in a part of town where I don’t know any next level ramen, I usually check the Ramen Database.  This site is an awesome user maintained database of ramen shops in Japan. You can search by location, name, styles — almost anything!  There are rankings and user submitted reviews.  The site is only in Japanese. There are a few English websites that are easily found via Google. One … Continue reading Ramen References for the People

Marky Star’s Top 5 Ramen Shops in Tokyo♪

Laziness is one of my strong suits, and keeping true to form, I haven’t updated this blog in ages. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but work and the social life have been keeping me busy — and even though it takes a few minutes to read a blog entry, it actually takes much longer to write one. At least it does for me. Anyways, I decided today to offer my 2 cents on the issue of rāmen. This is a crazy topic to cover because there are so many people with rāmen mania here. Luckily I have 3-4 rāmen … Continue reading Marky Star’s Top 5 Ramen Shops in Tokyo♪

Customize iPhone’s Japanese Dictionary

UPDATE: Due to constant updates in iOS, the information in this blog post is no longer relevant.  (3/25/2013) I previously wrote about an iPhone app called 辞書登録Lite (Jisho Tōroku) which allowed you to add words to the iPhone’s Japanese dictionary and determine what yomigana input would trigger the kanji conversion. The app I was writing about was free and worked for all the entries I tested it with. However, the next day when I tried to use the kaomoji and words I had entered, I found that nothing came up. Obviously, this free version was just a demo to promote … Continue reading Customize iPhone’s Japanese Dictionary

Japanese New Year

OK. This is gonna be loooooooooooooooooooooong. I promise to try my best to be concise, but I’m also trying to include as much as possible for people interested in life in Japan. Japanese New Year is the most important holiday of the year. It’s a big family holiday, much like Christmas, but a bit more solemn. All the companies and schools shut down and people return to their hometowns for a week and kick it old school with the fam. (I included a list New Year’s related vocab at the bottom if you want to see the kanji for any … Continue reading Japanese New Year

Lady GAGAku

Gagaku is the name of a type of Japanese music that was developed in the Imperial Court during the Heian Period (794-1185). This music features classical wind, wood and string instruments originally imported from China and Korea.  Even if you don’t know much about East Asian music traditions, I think you’ll agree this one is recognizably Japanese. Since we’re getting close to o-shōgatsu (Japanese New Year), I’m getting in the mood for traditional music. So today I’m going to post 3 YouTube links to some very famous gagaku compositions. But first, lets look at the kanji! 雅楽 ががく gagaku The … Continue reading Lady GAGAku

Christmas In Japan!

So a lot of people have asked me about Christmas in Japan. Well, the Japanese are masters at appropriating elements or foreign cultures and then thoroughly Japanizing them to fit the the needs of their own culture.

Christmas is no exception.

The Basics

How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Japanese?

merii kurisumasu

it’s the Japanized version of the English phrase.

Young people shorten it to メリクリ (meri kuri).

Christmas Eve is called:

クリスマスイブ kurisumasu ibu
or just イブ ibu for short.

The Religious Stuff

One of the most notable differences is the apparent lack of the Jesus-related trappings of Christmas. It seems ol’ JC got lost in translation. Japan is a very secular society. In fact, only about 1% of the country claims Christianity as their faith. Although roughly 80% of the population claims to adhere to Shintoism or Buddhism (or both), the reality is most Japanese just aren’t very religious or downright atheist, occasionally practicing certain religious rites to keep in touch with the old traditions. So, it’s not surprising that the particularly uninteresting story of a poor baby born in a desert in bronze age Palestine wouldn’t appeal to the sensibilities of modern Japanese. Occasionally, you will see angels or some other religious trappings, particularly on imported goods. But for the most part, all the boring religious stuff gets skipped over in favor of the flashy pagan stuff that even most westerners will agree makes it most fun.

an actual Christmas Card from about 20 years ago

Santa-san is Coming to Town

Of course, Santa is big here. While everybody knows his name is Santa Claus, he is affectionately referred to with the honorific suffix “-san” (this suffix is fairly well known outside of Japan and somewhat similar to “Mr./Mrs” in English). So Santa Claus becomes Santa-san.

Japanese houses don’t have chimneys, so I’ve always wondered how he delivers toys to the little boys and girls here. I don’t know if this is a widespread story or not, but my girlfriend’s father told her that Santa-san is like a ghost and can walk through walls. Pretty spooky.

Japanese friends who don’t know all the Christmas traditions, have asked me what the elves are all about. I tried to explain that they build toys for Santa. But I usually get a stunned look and サンタさんの奴隷??マジで? (Santa-san no dorei?? maji de? They’re Santa’s slaves??? Seriously??)
santa-san can be a girl too…

Christmas Cake and KFC

“Christmas Cake” just refers to any kind of cake decorated in some wintery, semi-Christmassy style. I don’t think there is a particular flavor. The ones I have had are quite delicious and beautifully decorated (the Japanese are masters of cakes and sweets, particularly in the European traditions). Often the convenience stores put makeshift stands on the streets and peddle cakes to pedestrians heading home after work. While I don’t recall ever seeing a “Christmas Cake” in any of the Christmas celebrations of my home town, it doesn’t seem like a particularly strange practice.

The thing that sort of caught me by surprise during my first celebration in Tokyo, was how everyone was looking forward to chicken from KFC. This year was the first year I actually indulged in the Colonel’s fine victuals. There was a loooooooong line outside of the shop (seemed longer on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day).

If you order in advance, you can procure a whole roasted chicken and some very large family sized buckets of roasted chicken legs and breasts and thighs. At the shop I visited in Nakano, the fried menu had been limited to original recipe. Crispy strips (my fave) and chicken sandwiches, wraps and the like were unavailable until the 26th.

One more thing about Christmas Cake.

On Dec. 26, nobody wants to buy Christmas Cake anymore. So a Japanese girl who turns 26 before getting married is derogatorily referred to as “Christmas Cake” – because obviously nobody will want her anymore. Ouch!
KFC Christmas Menu

Short & Sweet

Christmas is not a national holiday so if you’re not a foreigner working for a foreign company, chances are you’ll be working on Christmas. You won’t be meeting up with all of your family from all over the country and sitting around a traditional feast with wine and a roaring fire in the fireplace. Although these days a lot of families with small children will set up a small tree and some decorations and may even go through the whole Santa-san charade, the kids just get one present or two. They may receive it on イブ (“ibu”, Christmas Eve) or first thing in the morning before going to school. Family celebrations are short and sweet. There are still a lot of families who don’t celebrate at all – in fact, they might not even know which day is Christmas, though they know it’s Christmas season because you can’t get away from the ubiquitous Christmas music and lights.

Merry XXXmas!!!
So who is Christmas mainly celebrated by? The truth is Japanese Christmas is basically a holiday for couples, and young couples at that. Perhaps they’ll enjoy a romantic dinner (chicken, of course) washed down with some expensive wine or champagne. イブ (“ibu” – “eve,” as in Christmas Eve) is a pretty big business day for intimate restaurants. If they can get the day off, many couples like to make a quick getaway to an elegant hotel. Some hotels offer a Christmas package which would include a dinner and Christmas Cake. From my own experience, I’ve gone to 旅館 (“ryokan,” traditional japanese style inn). The room is a classic Japanese room with tatami floors and a futon. A yukata (a kind of kimono) is also provided. We like to choose rooms with a private hot spring bath attached to the veranda, so you can kick it in the steaming hot bath and look at the mountains and sea and snow. It’s a pretty awesome way to spend Christmas! The food at a ryokan will be traditional Japanese fare. Sashimi, rice, miso soup and whatever local vegetables and meats are in season. Of course, they provide you with a complimentary Christmas Cake.
A lot of couples opt for a cheaper and more practical kind of hotel. Japan is famous for love hotels, gaudy erotic playgrounds with massive beds and a jacuzzi (sometimes karaoke and video games, too) that can be rented overnight or by the hour for the sole purpose of sex. In Uguisudani, an area of Tokyo famous for its many love hotels, a lot of the hotels get so much business on XXXmas that they put a 3 hour max time limit on each room and a line of couples will be wrapped around the building waiting in the cold for their turn to get a room.

one love hotel’s special christmas rates!

Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am!
The shops start playing Christmas music and putting up decorations 2 months or so before the actual day. Some of the most extravagant and high-tech illuminations in the world are right here in Tokyo. I don’t want to think about how expensive the electricity bill is for these projects or who’s paying for them… but they are really beautiful. In the US, it seems like Christmas decorations stay up until at least New Years, and some people keep them up until January 6th (The Epiphany still being part of the religious observance of the Christmas Season).But in Japan it’s all over on the 26th.

Literally erased from view.

You’ll wake up the next day and won’t see a single light, wreath, or Santa-san. The clean up is so efficient and thorough that if you hadn’t actually seen the stuff up, you’d think there was no such thing as Christmas in Japan at all.I used to think that this was just the silliest thing ever – an example of Japanese over-efficiency. But recently, I have another theory. The biggest holiday in Japan – the big family holiday which brings everyone from all over the country back to their home towns – is お正月 (o-shōgatsu, New Year’s Day). It’s not a very consumer driven holiday, but it is a rather solemn holiday and it IS a real Japanese holiday, deeply connected to the culture and history and language. I’ve come to think now, that while Christmas is all fun and all, they clean it all up quickly to get people into the mind set of o-shōgatsu and remove all the distractions of this foreign practice. And if that’s the case, fair enough. It’s their damn culture, they can do what they want with it.

the trappings of o-shogatsu are much more formal

Since this is my first blog post, I’m in need of feed back. If I’ve left anything out or been unclear, point it out and I’ll add it to this when I expand it for next year’s Christmas post!!

awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸 Continue reading “Christmas In Japan!”