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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.

Shinto_Shrine_at_Sanju-sangen-do_Temple_Kyoto

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”).

yorosiku

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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Need a Cheap Place to Stay in Tokyo?

In Travel in Japan on December 27, 2009 at 5:06 am

If you or any of your friends are thinking of coming to Tōkyō on a budget, I can recommend a new, clean, super cheap guesthouse! At about $30 a night, it beats any regular hotel in the Tōkyō area. This is the same price as a “capsule hotel” which is no way to travel.  Plus, you’ll be staying in one of the coolest, most historical areas still left in the city where you can get in touch with “Old Japan.”

this how shinagawa looked in the edo period

How the place looked during it's first week open!

when a new business opens in japan, other local businesses and supporters send signs and gifts like this

My friend Taka asked me to come down and stay one night to give him an outsider’s opinion of the place.  Since I love Japanese History, I was already pretty familiar with the area.  Guesthouse Shinagawa-shuku is located in historical Shinagawa.
These days, most of Shinagawa is ultra-modern, but the Shinagawa-shuku area is still a very traditional, old school Japanese neighborhood dating back to late 1500’s. It’s one of my favorite areas in
Tōkyō!

guest house shinagawa shuku

a cute painting hanging in the hallway which borrows from the original famous painting of shinagawa-shuku (shown above).

But First,
About This Guesthouse

http://www.bp-shinagawashuku.com/

The rooms are Japanese Style (traditional tatami floor and a futon with Japanese bedding).
If you want a yukata (a light summertime kimono also used as pajamas), you can get one – which, of course, I did.
I stayed alone, so I chose one of the private singles (the smallest room type). But it was more than enough for me.
All the rooms have free wi-fi so i was good to go with my laptop.

i played yo-ville in my room.


There is a traditional Japanese style public bath (one for men and one for women).
This was awesome cuz real Japanese bathtubs are bigger and deeper than mine at
my apartment.
The japanese looooove taking long relaxing baths and I’ve learned to enjoy them too.  So I drew up a piping hot bath, opened a frosty can o’ beer and just chilled for an hour in the bath. Awwwwww yeah.

taking a bath in japan, yukata, kimono

after i took a bath i took a cheeseball pic of myself. oh the things i'll do help friends save money in japan. lol.

If I moved back to the US and then came back to visit Tōkyō, I’d definitely stay here just for the bath.  But also, a crappy business hotel that smells like an ashtray starts at about $80-$90 a night.
A real hotel is going to be around $120-and up.
I’d rather spend my money on food and shopping and sight seeing and girls.
So, $30 a night seals the deal. Seriously.


.

And Now,
About The Area

The building next door is a really small, really delicious
yaki tori place that I highly recommend. Next to that is a well stocked convenience store with anything you need 24 hours.

no smoking hotel in tokyo, japan

the entire building is non-smoking. but smokers can kick it on the roof top or mingle with passers by on the streets.

Shinagawa-shuku is a 2 minute walk from Kita-Shinagawa Station.
From the larger Shinagawa Station, it’s a 10 minute walk (which happens to pass by one of the most famous rāmen shops in Tōkyō – and IMO one of the best 3 in the entire country).
As a major hub station, some of the most important train lines stop here.
The Yamanote Line (which makes a loop around all of Tōkyō), the Keihin-Tōhōku Line, the Tōkaidō Line (which gives you access to Yokohama and the beautiful Kamakura).
I forget some of the other lines, but also one of the most important Shinkansen lines (bullet train) originates here.  This train will take you along the Tōkaidō from Tōkyō to Kyōto/Ōsaka in 2 hours.  Woohoo!
Also, you can get Narita and Haneda airports from here.

japanese style room, cheap hotel tokyo japan

here's a view of the entrance. nice calm & quiet japanese style. awwwww yeah♪


What is Shinagawa-shuku?

In the Edo Period (1600-1868), the main road connecting Edo and Kyōto was the Tōkaidō (literally, “eastern sea road”).
Along the way, there were postal towns where travel permits were checked and travelers could stay overnight and get something to eat.
One of the most famous postal towns on the old Tōkaidō was the very first station… which was Shinagawa-shuku (by the way, “shuku” is what that kind of postal town/inn town is called in Japanese, so you can find many towns with “-shuku” in their name to this day).

As a result, the town has a really historical feel which the locals are proud of.  You can find traditional shops making tatami floors, incense shops, rice shops and loads of traditional Japanese sweets!  All the food in this area is really good!
There are tons of small mom and pop restaurants selling traditional Japanese food.  There’s also a sushi shop that was visited by the 3rd shōgun and still bears the shōgunal family crest.

summer festival at shinagawa jinja

The area is teeming with temples and shrines.
The most important of which comprise a pilgrimage that can be walked in about 2 hours called the “shichi fukujin meguri.”
This means “the pilgrimage to the Seven Gods of Good Luck.”
Who can’t use a little good luck? lol.

The Shinagawa-shuku provides a bunch of maps with glossaries and explanations of all the historical spots.
There are WELL OVER 100 clearly marked points of interest in the area, which is too many for me to mention.
You can also see the remains of one of the 3 execution grounds from the Edo Period which is said to be the most haunted place in Tōkyō (Suzugamori Shikeijo).
And Shinagawa Jinja is a beautiful shrine far up on a hill that represents a ritual pilgrimage to the top of Mount Fuji.
Oh, i can’t forget Sengakuji, the temple where the 47 samurai who committed ritual suicide as the result of a heroic catch-22 situation are enshrined – one of the most famous (and complicated) stories of true samurai loyalty.

In Japanese This Kind of Area is Called “Shitamachi.”

It literally translates as “downtown,” but that’s not really what it means.
You should think of it as “Old Style Tōkyō” or even “Edo” (the name of Tōkyō until about 1869).
Many families have lived here since the samurai days, so people have a different culture than mainstream Tōkyō, which is a sprawling megacity and home to people from all over Japan.
Japanese people are by nature a little shy around foreigners because of the language barrier or, in the case of this area, due to limited exposure to them.
But if you can speak Japanese, tho, you’ll find shitamachi people have the biggest hearts in Tōkyō.
They’re talkative, gregarious and love to tell stories — especially the old people! If you know a few words – even “please,” “thank you,” or “delicious,” try them out and you’ll get big smiles and probably lots of questions about where you’re from, what do like about Japan, etc.
Even if they seem indifferent at first, try engaging the locals you’ll be surprised how friendly shitamachi people are after you break the ice!

Anyways, in short, you can pay a lot of money for a hotel in the crowded space age megapolis of Tōkyō or stay on the cheap japanese style in a rare historical district
As for me, I like to kick it local style everywhere I go.
I want to meet local people, learn local stories and try to understand a country’s culture deeply.
If you stay at guesthouse shinagawa-shuku, you can easily do the same♪


awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

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