Category Archives: Life & Culture

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Tokyo from a Gaijin’s Eye –

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Japan has a significantly high and ever increasing number of expats with over 2.2 million long term and permanent foreign residents.
With a dwindling local population and increased demand of highly skilled talent, the expat traffic is set to rise even more drastically.
Being the heart of the nation and host to the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is already positioning itself to be Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.
But the key question is, how do foreigners feel about living in Tokyo?
In this blog, I am trying to reflect the sentiments of the expat community in Tokyo.

What do expats love about Tokyo the most?

There are way too many things to be mentioned, so I picked up my favorite ones below.

Cleanliness: Most of the developed world is generally very clean, but Japan takes cleanliness to a completely new high.
The dedication and passion of Japanese people for clean and tidy surroundings is profoundly infectious.
Where else in the world will the staff come and pick up your garbage in the middle of a sumo game or while watching festivals at local streets?!

Safety: As a foreigner, one’s biggest concern abroad is one’s safety and in this area too, Japan scores very high over many countries.
Crime rate is almost nil and it is highly unlikely to hear from an expat that he/ she was robbed, discriminated or harassed.

Humility: Yes the Japanese have sometimes difficulty in English communication but that does not hinder them from being the super kind humans and good Samaritans.
Each expat will narrate to you hundreds of stories – from extremely friendly treatment at shops and restaurants to locals going out of the way in helping strangers.
“Gaijin sama” – that’s the polite word Japanese people use for a foreigner.
And to me the word “sama”, meaning ‘our dearest guest’, is quite literally a everyday humbling experience.

Customer service: Many expats swear by it and are always in awe of the magnificent customer service experience.
Whether it is a fancy cafe or a salon or even government offices, attention to detail and complete customer orientation in almost every business is totally unrivaled and is simply mind boggling.
Also, what makes the Japanese hospitality very unique is that nobody ever expects or gives a tip, even for extremely high quality of service.

What do expats do for socializing?

As a foreigner, a large share of socializing opportunities come from the after work team get-togethers Nomikai.
These help both the locals and foreigners get personal and understand each other better.
Also, there are plenty of ways for socializing with other expats.
Networking sites, forums and meet up groups in several areas of Tokyo allow Gaijins to share their Japanese experiences and learn from each other.
I am part of a few of these forums and have become friends with people of several nationalities.

Recreation and entertainment

Tokyo is always super busy and bustling with action.
There are all kinds of events happening all year round – seasonal public events, grand traditional festivals, global food festivals, carnivals, concerts, shopping sale and sports events that can keep expats busy all the time.
If you have locals in your group, there are the Izakaya (restaurants) dinners followed by crazy Karaoke sessions.
If you like gaming, there are the maddeningly loud pachinko gaming centers which will take you to a different world.

The Not so pleasant things

This list is not a long one.

One thing that foreigners struggle the most to deal with in Japan is cultural differences.
These differences lead to miscommunication and trust gap at the work place.
The polite and humble Japanese style is contrastingly different from the straight-to-the-point Western business style.

More English usage would be nice, especially in written form.
With complex kanjis to decipher, most Gaijins have to resort to translation of literally everything they put their eyes on!
On a different note, many translations end up being completely irrelevant to the subject and also extremely hilarious.

Final word

My friend asked me recently about my overall impression of living in Tokyo.
My answer to her was – ‘My love for it is growing deeper each day’.
This is probably what many foreigners feel too and almost certainly they never would have imagined this before arriving to Japan.
I think I am very blessed to experience it all.
My heart goes Arigato Gozaimasu to the great times I have had here and I hope to enjoy this for a long time to come.
Sigh!

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I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- My quick getaway to Misaki/Jougashima! –

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I’ve only lived in Tokyo for 2 months, but even I know that we all sometimes need to get away from the hectic hustle of the Tokyo lifestyle.
One warm and sunny afternoon, we (my friends and I) spontaneously decided that we wanted to escape Tokyo for a day, and set out on a day trip to Misaki and Jougashima in Miura peninsula.

The reason we chose Misaki/Jougashima was because it is not overpopulated with tourists, and is also not too far or expensive to make this day trip.
There is actually a great value day trip package called the “Keikyu Misaki Maguro Ticket”.
It includes a round-trip from Shinagawa station to Misaki-guchi station (only on the Keikyu local line), unlimited use of local buses in the Misaki/Jougashima area, a free “Maguro lunch” from a selection of 30 restaurants, and 1 of 8 leisure activities (onsen admission, aquarium ticket, bicycle rental for the day, “maguro souvenir ”, glass-making souvenir, short ferry cruise ), all for just over 3000yen.

We had a relatively slow start to the day and ended up leaving Shinagawa station around noon, and arrived at Misaki Port (a short bus ride from Misaki-guchi station) around 13:30, where we ate our “Maguro lunch”, which was delicious!
After lunch, we walked around the town and immersed ourselves in the atmosphere of a traditional fishing port (which is well-known for having a big tuna market, which we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to see).

We then headed for Jougashima (which can be accessed by a short bus trip or ferry ride), where we had planned to do a short hike along the coast (Yama-michi course).
However, this trail was closed off, so instead we walked along the rocky shoreline of the coast.
To our delight, this shoreline had very interesting rock formations all along it, which resembled “waves of rock”.

With the final destination of the walk being Jougashima Park, we stopped off at a rock formation called “Umanose Domon”, but there were also many small inlets and caves along this walk.
We then made our way to Jougashima Park, where we found some very interesting looking “slanted trees”.
As the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to the final destination, which was an onsen at Hotel Keikyu Aburatsubo-kan Shio-sou (bus fare there, and onsen admission was included in the Misaki Maguro Ticket).
All in all, it was a very beautiful and relaxing day , and very inexpensive!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Bigotry in Japan? –

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News reports about possible racist jeering at sumo wrestler Terunofuji, who hails from Mongolia, has spread quickly among many outlets in Japan.
The sumo wrestler performed in a way that some feel isn’t quite in line with the methods of a true grand champion, even if his tactics are technically allowable.
Still, the incident left a bad taste in the audience’s mouths, and some alleged racist heckling ensued.
The crowd reportedly jeered at him, “Go back to Mongolia!” after he secured a victory.
I’m not particularly interested in sumo wrestling as a sport, but the incident raises questions about the levels of bigotry in Japan.
How much does it exist, and against whom is it directed?
A lot has been written over the years about prejudice in Japan against Japanese-born Koreans.
This is a recurring problem with which Japan has not successfully dealt.
Other possible issues remain, such as bigotry against other minority groups and ethnicities.
I remember seeing a strange video on the Internet several years ago.
It was filmed in Japan, and it showed people protesting Americans.
One man had a megaphone and shouted, “White pig go home!” at some white people.
It was a shocking video, to say the least.
I don’t know to what extent this might represent people’s feelings in Japan.
Like many places, Japan must deal with this issue.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but this kind of prejudice does seem to exist, as it does everywhere.
I hope a day will come when these problems never have to be addressed again.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Superstitions in Japan –

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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.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Is Tokyo the Real City That Never Sleeps? –

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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!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Jam Sessions in Tokyo –

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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…

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- March brings a record number of tourists to Japan –

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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.