I’ve never considered myself a superstitious person.
I tend to prefer logical explanations to things in life based on facts, because I find them easier to follow and accept than the alternatives.
There are of course many things in life I don’t understand, and I’m generally perfectly happy to label things as “unknowns” or “mysteries.”
I’m comfortable accepting that there are elements in life that are unexplainable to me because I don’t have the necessary pieces to see the full picture for the time being.
If the inexplicable happens to coincide with my interests, I usually try to gather as many facts as possible, until I’m satisfied that I have at least a somewhat passable understanding of the subject.
Why am I rambling on about this?
It’s because I’ve generally dismissed the supernatural beliefs as being little more than artifacts of cultural/historical heritage.
In other words, I considered them to be somewhat obsolete mode of thinking that was gradually on its way out, at least in developed parts of the world that already saw the benefits of industrialization and therefore scientific progress.
So what surprised me was realizing that not only was I getting acclimatized to old Japanese sayings based on old beliefs (e.g. “Be careful what you say, oni is listening,” or “Don’t be reckless with words, words have souls.”), but I actually found myself heeding to those words at times.
On New Year’s Day when we visited the shrine, it felt natural to pray to the local deity even though I clearly remember how strange that felt a few years ago.
And I still don’t think that I’ve become any more superstitious than I used to be.
For that matter, the vast majority of the Japanese people I’ve met since coming here don’t take these old superstitions seriously.
For the most part, Shintoist and Buddhist rituals seem to be part of cultural legacy they enjoy, but not much more than that.
The interesting transformation for me was going from being an amused observer to being an appreciative participant.
If you ask me if my luck would change if I didn’t draw the New Year’s fortune at the shrine, I’ll say, no, of course not.
But at the same time, if I skipped going through the motions at the beginning of the year, I’d probably feel like missed out on something.
When i think about it, it almost feels like there’s an incompatible dualism that’s only come to seem normal.
But I really don’t feel any internal conflicts.
Maybe I’m being influenced by the openness of Japanese culture to accept different belief systems.
Or not. In any case, I feel that I understand Japanese ways of thinking better.
I once met a Japanese drummer who regularly went to a church to play worship songs.
At the time, I wondered why.
Now, I don’t think that’s strange at all.
A while back, I noticed what I consider to be a unique phenomenon.
I’ve lived in many places over the years, but Tokyo is the only place that had such an effect on me.
No matter how much I try, I cannot go to bed on time.
“On time,” of course, may change from day to day.
Some nights it’s perfectly acceptable to stay up all hours, so long as you don’t have to get up the next morning.
But even on those nights before work, it still presents quite a challenge.
As someone who values sleep, it baffles me.
I’ve lived in many types of places over the years.
Cities, suburban areas, rural areas — name it, and I’ve been there.
But I’ve never stayed up particularly late on a regular basis before I moved to Tokyo.
So i can’t figure it out. I remember how staying up until 2:00 a.m. used to be a shocking thing to do during summer vacation.
Now 2:00 a.m. is packing it in early!
I know lots of other people who are the same.
I sometimes get messages from fellow Tokyoites at all hours of the morning.
I once got a couple of text messages from a friend (who is in his 70s, mind you) early in the 5:00 hour. (And, yes, I was asleep by then!)
The notification sound effect on my phone woke me up.
I’m sure it’s possible he had woken up early, for example, to go to work, but given his age, I doubt it.
I don’t think he went to sleep at all!
It’s very unusual, but it’s so common in Tokyo.
I’d love to know why.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think many other cities ignore sleep so regularly.
Perhaps someone has an answer.
I’d sure like to know why!
One of the reasons I decided to settle in Japan rather than Vancouver (my hometown), was because of the music scene in Tokyo.
I didn’t know any Japanese musicians personally.
But surely, I thought, in a city with more than 12 million people (which is around 1/3 the entire population of Canada), there must be a lot of opportunities for musicians.
Eager to connect with local players but having no idea where to start, I turned to good ol’ Internet.
I looked up websites for jam sessions and made a list of places to visit.
The first thing that I realized was that, compared to what I was used to, many of the jam sessions were on the pricey side.
Of course the meaning of “expensive” just depends on what the local norm is, but I was used to going to jam sessions for free.
But some of the more well-known jams in Tokyo charge anywhere between 1000-3000 yen for entry.
I haven’t been to jam sessions in cities other than Vancouver and Tokyo/Yokohama, so I can’t really compare either of these places to what’s typical around the world. There probably isn’t one standard business model anyway.
But comparing Vancouver and Tokyo jams, the one clear difference is the target audience.
In Vancouver, it was good for the venues to get musicians who were willing to play for free (even students) because that meant these places could draw in customers who just enjoyed having a meal with live background music.
I remember a jam session that even served a free plate of fries or pint of beer to all the players.
For the players, it was a good chance to meet others and to play in a stress-free environment.
In Tokyo/Yokohama, jam sessions are typically where amateur musicians go to practice music with others and improve.
Depending on the jam, you might see a lot of beginners or players with a lot of experiences.
I think one of the reasons why people go to these jams is because for many, practicing at home isn’t really an option (although the biggest upside, of course, is to mingle with other regulars).
Naturally, the players are the main customers of these jams, and there’s often a cover charge in addition to minimum order.
I feel that regular restaurants (as opposed to dedicated jam spaces) could benefit from hosting jams, but I haven’t found one yet.
Anyway, it’s been really great meeting people at these jams over the years.
They came from all sorts of different backgrounds and some of them became close friends.
I hope to continue finding more good jams in the future…!
In the meantime, if you know a good place, please feel free to leave a comment…
Well, it’s official.
Japan saw over two million tourists visit the country in March.
Suffice it to say, that’s a lot for a single month.
Not surprisingly, the majority came from China and other neighboring countries in Asia.
For those of us who live in Japan and see Chinese tourists almost every day, that’s pretty much a given.
The country seems to be gearing up to meet its goal of 40 million tourists by 2020, which to many seems like an ill-advised idea.
Even now, with about half that number of tourists visiting the country every year, there is a severe lack of hotel accommodations.
In four years, is it really possible to provide lodging to twice as many visitors as we are having now?
Seems a little far-fetched to me.
But, with fewer economic opportunities to turn to, Japan seems to rely more and more on tourists to boost the economy.
This seems like it ought to be more controversial in Japan, but perhaps the people are so hungry for anything to work that they’d settle for an assist from the Chinese.
Cherry blossoms, of course, were a major draw for the tourists.
Being near Meguro River, you could see the tourists out in force.
I can’t imagine what viewing the cherry blossoms will be like in 2020.
Today, I want to talk about my city of residence: Yokohama.
Why? Because I feel like it’s sometimes overshadowed by its neighboring city, Tokyo, despite its many offerings in terms of cultural sites and modern shopping districts.
Although Tokyo is the most popular city by far with foreign tourists, Yokohama remains an alluring attraction for domestic travelers.
I’ll start with the most central area of the city, Minatomirai.
Minatomirai is the central shopping district in Yokohama, and overlooks the iconic Ferris wheel.
From the station exits (either Minatomirai Station on Minatomirai Line or Sakuragicho Station on JR Negishi Line), there are a number of well-known tourist attractions within fairly short walking distance.
Yamashita-koen is a park that stretches along the waterfront by the port and leads to Osanbashi pier, the place of embarkation for luxury cruise ships such as Queen Elizabeth 2.
It’s a structure that manages to blend the old shipbuilding tradition of wooden planks and a sleek, modern design.
It’s a popular spot for romantic walks for couples and on clear days, you can see Mt. Fuji from the pier.
Close to Yamashita-koen is the historical Red Brick Warehouse building.
Having served as a storage facility during the wartime, it’s now a busy shopping & dining area.
There’s a shop that specializes in curry-filled buns, and I usually stop by for one if I’m in the area.
You’ll also find a jazz bar/restaurant Motion Blue on the second floor.
It’s a sister establishment of Blue Note Tokyo, and regularly features some of the most highly regarded musicians and artists in Tokyo area.
Another location that’s constantly bustling with visitors from outside of Yokohama is Chinatown.
Meat buns are popular there, and you’ll see people lining up to get some from the popular shops.
If you’re visiting Japan, you might also be thinking of trying some ramen.
What you may not have known though, is that there are many different types (the chief ones being pork, salt, and soy sauce) in addition to regional variations of each.
And unless you’ve tried a bunch of different restaurants for comparison, it’s not really possible to fully appreciate this popular Japanese dish.
Well, if you’re in Yokohama area, you’re in luck because close to Shin-Yokohama Station (about 10 minutes by train from Yokohama Station on Yokohama Line), you’ll find Ramen Museum.
Its interior is decorated like post-war Tokyo, and conveys kind of a busy, chaotic atmosphere.
While it’s obvious that the creators of the museum paid a lot of attention to historical details, the main attraction isn’t what’s preserved from the past but rather the current snapshot of the famous ramen makers from all over Japan.
Ramen Museum features eight famous ramen houses from around the country, each representing its region and distinctive style.
You can also order half portions from the vendors, which is nice because that makes it easier for you to try at least a few different restaurants.
I’m going to stop here for now, but some of the other notable places around Yokohama include Kamakura (famous for its shrines, kind of reminiscent of Kyoto in terms of historical vibe but smaller), Enoshima (a seaside town close to Kamakura), and Sankei-en (traditional Japanese garden).
If you ever come to Tokyo, then by all means, enjoy what the city has to offer. But don’t forget that Yokohama is an amazing city in its own right…!
According to news sources, the Japanese government will soon launch a new plan designed to increase tourism, utilizing “cultural assets” in order to accomplish this goal.
Of course, this all ties in with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Under the plan, many historical sites that are usually ignored would be given new repairs, and explanations would be available to tourists in English.
The idea is to expand the base beyond the usual historical places in Kyoto and the modern decor of Tokyo.
Japan Rail passes are reportedly part of the renovation as well, and will be available for purchase in Japan.
Currently, only travelers planning to visit Japan can purchase them, which makes travel for Japanese residents prohibitively expensive (but affordable for tourists).
I, for one, would welcome this change.
I think it’s a great idea to open Japan up to more than just the usual haunts for tourists.
There’s much more to explore.
Also, given how costly it is to go from one place to another, giving tourists and residents alike some relief would be a most welcome change.
Everyone would benefit, and that’s a good thing!