Why Japanese Food Isn’t THAT Healthy, but the Japanese Lifestyle Is; My Experience

Japan currently has the highest life expectancy in the world. Every time I plan out a new article on this site, I do a search analysis to see what people are searching around the world about Japan everyday. Overwhelmingly, the question that appears at the top of almost every auto fill result and SEO page is the question, “Why Do Japanese People Live So Long?” As somebody who has lived in Japan for the better part of a decade, I can understand a lot of this obsession, and have lived this lifestyle. Through living here I can understand how healthy the Japanese lifestyle is from firsthand experience. But…at the same time, some things do puzzle me. There was a very popular YouTube video circulating around a few years ago that claimed Japanese people were extremely healthy because of how healthy Japanese food is! “Japanese people drink green tea instead of coffee!”, “Japanese convenience stores have healthy options!”, etc. These were the kinds of points they covered in the video. I would like to talk about my opinion on this based on years of living in Japan, and having many, many, many meals here.

So… Is Japanese food really healthy?

Oh, I’m such a joker

Yes, most Japanese food is healthy!But…there is a BIG but regarding those points from the video.

The thing is…while I wouldn’t outright disagree with these points (and I do think Japanese people tend to eat healthier than the average Westerner), if you actually live here you know that one of the most popular foods in Japan is…*drumroll*…fried chicken! For real, fried chicken is treated like a side dish in Japan, with it showing up in more than a few of the more formal dinners I have enjoyed here. Among other popular Japanese foods are tonkatsu, a breaded pork cutlet. Tempura, fish and vegetables fried in oil. Yakitori, cuts of chicken on a kebab, often dressed with fatty dressings, cheese, and extremely sodium-high dashi sauces (or literally just 塩 shio. literally salt coating.) Fried tofu is also a common side dish. Don’t even get me started on how integral a role alcohol plays in the every social function in Japan. It’s practically impossible to even make friends in this country if you’re not open to heading down to the local pub and slamming back 5 pints every Friday (I love these Japanese style drinking parties, also known as nomikai飲み会、i’m just teasing, although it is true…) If you want to read more about why Japanese people have so many drinking parties you can read one of my other article’s “What Do People Do For Fun in Japan? The Concept of “Nijikai”. In addition, you can read about a weird experience I had leading up to a university drinking party at my article ” Studying at Japanese University: One Strange Experience I Had.” They both outline the expectations and impact of social dynamics on food culture and relationship-building in Japan. So…Japanese people aren’t healthy then?

I’m teasing a bit, and I’m definitely cherry-picking here…but my point is that there are PLENTY of unhealthy foods in Japan that people eat on a very regular basis. The reality is that Japan has a very long history with fried foods, but…there is one key distinction that I believe is the main reason for why Japanese people actually are healthy, and is something that I haven’t seen covered by many other outlets.

I believe that this is the main reason why Japanese people are healthy, and the Japanese diet is healthy. All about the concept of “ichiji-sansai.”

I believe the main reason Japanese people are healthy is because of the concept (not the strict principle) of ichiji-sansai (一汁三菜), lit. “1 soup three dishes”. Put very simply, while it is a principle of the ancient Japanese culinary arts, put very simply, the concept behind ichiji-sansai is to create balance in a meal by serving a variety of different side dishes. Essentially, one soup (almost always a variety of miso soup) will accompany 3 different dishes (typically 1 main dish and 2 side dishes) in a single meal.

A small dish of pickles is liking hiding behind the miso soup, making this a perfect example of ichiji-sansai.

So…what does this mean? This means that in Japanese meals, even if an unhealthy option like fried chicken or tonkotsu is served, several only healthy side-dishes are often served as well. This means that even you’re always getting some serving of vegetables, and some serving of fiber in each meal. In fact, tonkotsu’s typical meal layout encompasses this balance perfectly. Tonkotsu is a pork cutlet, but is always served alongside a healthy helping of shredded cabbage, miso soup, and typically a side plate of picked vegetables (お新香 oshinko. ) The point being, while the main dish isn’t the healthiest option you could pick, the overall meal composition as a whole ensures a consistent balance in the Japanese diet and lifestyle that you won’t find in most other countries.

Almost every meal will come with some side healthy side okazu. Most sit-down meals will come with miso soup (which is loaded in antioxidants and b vitamins, while also typically containing seaweed and other vegtables. This meal composition (While officially and historically referred to as ichiji-sansai) is colloquially often referred to as the teishoku style (Teishoku being written in kanji as 定食), and is a very common meal option for restaurants in Japan. If we look further, we can see how the teishoku / ichiji-sansai mindset has deep roots in the way Japanese people think about food.

One common misconception Westerners have about Japanese food and the Japanese diet.

Sometimes bowls of rice in Japan will be served with umeboshi, a type of pickled Japanese plum. I like it, but it’s an acquired taste.

One thing you will often see in Westernized Japanese restaurants is this idea that rice is a Japanese food, or that Japanese people eat rice. As a result, you will often see bowls of rice listed as separate options to order on menus. Restaurants in Japan offer this option as well, but the common misconception here is that westerners think that rice is something Japanese people eat as the staple of their diet. Or that Japanese people mainly eat fish and rice. While I’m not quite sure from a historic perspective how much this has changed (at one point in history rice was used as a currency between Japan’s multiple classes), in a modern context, rice (and in particular, white rice) is eaten as a palate cleaner. Meaning, rice is something that is almost unconsciously eaten between bites of other dishes. This is something that I think many Westerners don’t pick up on in regards to Japanese cuisine.

If you just serve a bowl of plain white rice to a Japanese person with no other dishes, they’ll probably be confused. Another common mistake foreigners make when coming to Japan is that they try to cover their rice in soy sauce. This is a big no-no. It just looks…really crude. White rice is supposed to be boring. It helps cleanse your palate between bites, adds overall volume to the meal, and (especially historically speaking) is cheap to make. You can think of it as the foundation of the meal, and certainly not the focus. My point being: Rice is actually a somewhat unhealthy food. It’s calorie dense and lacks nutrients. However, as a piece of an overall bigger meal, rice serves an important function in filling out less calorie dense foods, so each person can feel full despite eating other healthier, more nutrient-dense foods. This is one more way that the overall balance of the Japanese diet serves to create a healthier lifestyle for the Japanese people. While all of the individual parts that make up a Japanese meal tend to be either healthy, or not, the enter meal composition as a whole centered around the ichiji-sansai / teishoku methodology ensures that during every meal of the day people are getting some healthy portions in their meals, even if that isn’t the staple portion of the dish. I believe that this is the primary reason why the Japanese diet is healthy, why the Japanese lifestyle is healthy, and why Japanese people tend to live longer than Westerners on average.

Some other factors that contribute to the average Japanese person’s healthy lifestyle: Other reasons why people are healthy in Japan

Besides diet, there are some other things I have noticed while living in Japan since early 2015 that I believe contribute to the overall healthy lifestyle of people in Japan. Most of these things are very situational to Japan, so rather than being things that you can easily pick up into your daily routine, many of these factors are interesting anomalies or anecdotes stemming from the way people live their lives everyday in Japan.

Exercise by necessity: How Japan’s stellar public transportation system encourages people to exercise daily

The commute in Japan can be a truly intense experience, and an absolutely terrifying one at that. The fear of being shoved into Takeshi-san’s armpit pales in comparison to the thought of being even 1 minute late to work, something that will certainly be noticed by your peers. Luckily, the trains in Japan are on time. ALWAYS on time. In fact, living in Japan, you will often see news articles about the one train conductor that had the audacity to be *gasp* 20 seconds late! Trains take being on time so seriously in Japan that if the train is even one minute late, workers will be waiting on standby at each stop ready to hand out vouchers, which essentially serve as proof that your being late wasn’t your fault. Japan’s trains are reliable, clean, and are very convenient. In fact, this has permeated the way people talk in Japanese, where people always refer to the nearest station whenever describing any area in any of Japan’s major cities (Japanese streets actually don’t have street names, so this is almost be necessity.)

All of this convenience has lead to a country-wide system that means MANY, MANY people ride the trains everyday. In Japan, owning a car is almost an exception, with the vast majority of the country commuting by foot to work every day. This means that if you move to Japan, you can expect to ride the train too! Only, Japan has a another unique characteristic, especially in Tokyo: an absolutely insane population density. It is absolutely the exception, not the rule, if you ever get a chance to sit on the train while riding on any of Tokyo’s major lines. This is somewhat inconvenient, but a really positive side effect of this dynamic, is that people tend to get a lot of exercise daily just by commuting daily to and from work. I know that for me personally, when I was working an office job in Japan, between the walk to the station, and then the walk to the office, compounded with standing on the train for around 20-30 minutes, I probably walked around a mile to get to work each morning. That really adds up, and definitely helps the average Japanese person maintain a healthier lifestyle without actively taking the initiative to try and improve their own health. There almost isn’t a need. If you are eating the average Japanese diet and living the average Japanese lifestyle, you should already be pretty healthy, assuming you don’t have any prior medical conditions. Really though, I’ve been living in Japan for so long that the idea of not having access to Japan’s transportation infrastructure would really be something I would have to get used to. It keeps you active, and it’s oh, so convenient.

Societal pressure: In Japan, the people around you will let you know if you put on any weight

This is something that many people don’t like to talk about. It’s almost like this taboo thing to suggest. “What do you mean?! Japanese people are healthy because they drink green tea! There’s no pressure!!!” But, all joking aside, this is a very real aspect of life in Japan, and is something that isn’t really so negative once you get used to it. The fact is that, based on my own experience living in Japan, Japanese people will absolutely call each other out for gaining even a miniscule amount of weight. I remember one time I was sitting with a few university friends, and two guys who hadn’t seen each other in around 6 months said hi to each. Then one of them looked the other guy up…and down…and then just blurted out “最近太ったね! Translation: Wow…you got fat!” And he really wasn’t saying it to be funny. At least, I don’t think he was…this is just one of those strange contradictions that exists within the Japanese culture. People love to beat around the bush, and so much of Japanese society is about mastering the art of indirect communication. Things are expected to be sugar-coated, and people are expected to constantly demonstrate restraint and extreme caution in the words they choose. Then, one day you might run into somebody you barely know and they’ll call you fat…right to your newly fat face! It’s honestly really funny. It doesn’t make me mad at all.

Controversy aside, I don’t think people here do this to be mean. In fact, I’ve questioned a few people over the years about how they can be so comfortable telling their friends they gained weight. They told me this: “I was worried about them. I wanted to make sure they were okay!” This is a symptom of Japanese collectivism. If somebody is not matching up to the health standards of the group, others will try to help them become more healthy. Even people who aren’t very close to that person. As the person who has recently gained weight, they will likely feel like they are inconveniencing other people by making them worry, which will motivate them to try and be healthier. It…can be a bit brutal, but I think this is a huge reason why there are so few overweight people in Japan. At least, it’s certainly an important component.

In conclusion

The balanced diet of the average Japanese person, coupled with the more active lifestyle make it easier to stay thin in Japan, while the collectivist mindset towards gaining weight is what incentives people from gaining further weight (other than the obvious aesthetic incentives.) Just like with most things in Japan, there are a lot of tiny factors at play here.

If you are interested in reading more about how my experiences living in Japan, as well as how the Japanese culture effects tiny lifestyle factors in Japan, please check out one of my other articles below!

The Best Google Chrome Extensions For Learning Japanese: My Recommendations

I’ve studied Japanese both in and outside Japan (mostly inside Japan) for the past 8 years. The best advice I can give from my experience studying Japanese, is that whether you are living in Japan or not, you can only learn Japanese by learning how to be self-reliant. That means giving yourself all of the tools you need to self-teach, including when you’re on google. Trust me, a lot of your studying time will be spent using google to study, whether that’s through looking-up stuff or using Google’s auto-fill to search for the most natural way to say things, reading articles from native Japanese speakers, etc. Also, the topic of this article: There are some free google chrome extensions that can help make your life easier as a Japanese learner! I’ve used a lot of these, but I’ve only found a few to be genuinely useful for learning Japanese. Here are my top recommendations for those who are looking for Google Chrome extensions for studying Japanese.

1. Rikaikun

Rikaikun is love, rikaikun is life. It’s pretty simple. Rikaikun will tell you the meaning and reading of any Japanese words you hover over with your cursor. The internet is not designed with Japanese-English billingual speakers in mind, so I can say that even just finding a way to check the reading of Kanji more efficiently will save you so much…oh so much time. It’s great. You can download rikaikun here.

That being said, there are a few drawbacks I have noticed. Some websites absolutely freak out when you have rikaikun enabled for some reason. Unfortunately, as of the time of writing this article, Gmail seems to be one of these culprits. Lines will be randomly deleted, the format of the site will, and other annoying shenanigans will ensue. Luckily, rikaikun is really easy to turn on and off at will, so this isn’t too much of an issue, and I can still definitely recommend you use rikaikun as your go-to google chrome extension for studying Japanese.

2. Yomichan: An alternative option to rikaikun that performs a very similar function

While I haven’t used it personally, I have seen some people recommending yomichan as an alternative to rikaikun they prefer to rikaikun. I think one of the main reasons for this is because it supports Anki integration (Another very popular app and Google Chrome extension for Japanese learners I will go over later).

3. Hashigo: Enhance your Netflix and Japanese learning experience

I probably get asked more than any other question whether or not I would recommend studying Japanese through anime or other shows and movies you can find on Netflix. I generally…can’t really recommend anime as your main recourse, but live action films and shows are a great study tool. Basically, anything that involves you listening to real people speak in everyday Japanese is golden.

Hashigo is a browser extension that improves upon and redesigns the Japanese captions of videos to make it easier for Japanese learners to study. You can see how it redesigns subtitles in the picture below.

In fact, Hashigo acts similar in a lot of ways to rikaikun and yomichan, but tailored specifically for the Netflix viewing experience. I do find it kind of strange the way it chooses to separate certain words, however. You can see in the above picture (Attack on Titan) that the た in 赤かった is color coded differently, perhaps as a well to highlight the 過去形 past-tense grammar? I’m not quite sure, but other than that minor pet-peeve, hashigo will make it easier for you to self-teach yourself Japanese through different shows and movies.

4: Bonus choice: Anki

This isn’t a browser extension, but is actually both a PC and mobile app that has become increasingly popular with Japanese learners, especially Japanese learners who are living in Japan. Why? Because anki encourages the continuous repetition of new words at a spaced-out-interval that adjusts itself to your comprehension level. I actually didn’t know about anki when I first moved to Japan in early 2015, but looking back, a lot of the methods I used to study Japanese on a day-to-day basis were pretty similar to the way the app works. I attempted to take the ultimate “practical” approach to Japanese learning, where I would only study words that I actually came in contact with during my everyday life in Japan. If I forgot an important word I encountered more than once, then I would really drive it deeper into my brain until I couldn’t forget it. This is pretty similar to how anki works, and I think this is the best way to study the Japanese language. I recommend downloading anki for both your PC and smartphone, while supplementing your study through the other google chrome extensions I recommended above.

In conclusion

Studying Japanese is a game of self-reliance, and giving yourself additional tools is the greatest way to motivate yourself to keep moving forward. Coupled with these Google chrome extensions, adding some physical resources into your study routine is really important to providing context to your brain of why you are studying Japanese. Essentially, the goal is to create urgency by placing Japanese study resources in as many places as possible! Perhaps you should invest in one of the resources below? This site is an Amazon affiliate, so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make. It really supports this website so I can keep providing anecdotes and information based on my experiences living in Japan.

These flashcards will help you learn how to read hiragana, one of the Japanese alphabets

And this is always my go-to recommendation for a beginner Japanese textbook you should start with. Trust me, this textbook is amazing, and this set comes with a workbook as well.

Finally, if you are interesting in learning Japanese, please check out one of the other articles I have linked below. I go over many of the studying techniques I have used over my 7 years living in Japan!

Can you Live in Japan Without Speaking Japanese? My Experience

You’ll hear a lot of conflicting answers for this, depending on who you ask. I would say that, especially in Tokyo, it is entirely possible to survive in Japan without Japanese, but…just because it’s possible, that doesn’t mean life in Japan without Japanese ability is very practical or fun. Let’s get into it!

So, can you survive in Japan without being able to speak Japanese?

Especially leading up to and in preparation for the ‘2020’ Tokyo Olympics, the infrastructure of bigger cities in Japan have (with very notable exceptions I will go over later) generally taken strides to make things as accessible to English speakers as possible. Most road signs, notices, menu’s, and so on now come with a handy chiral counterpart. As far as being a tourist in Japan is concerned, it has never been this easy to navigate Japan. If you are considered to traveling to Japan, and you are concerned because you are wondering if you can travel through Japan without being able to speak Japanese, rest assured that you should have no trouble as a short-term traveler. Even compared to when I moved here in early 2015, even trivial things such as the symbols used on local maps have been reworked to be more universally comprehendible to an international audience. This attempt to globalize Japan’s infrastructure can actually lead to a lot of issues for long-term foreign residents in Japan, which I will go over later.

To summarize: If you are planning on traveling through Japan or visiting Japan short-term, and you are worried about not being able to understand Japanese, I can assure you that based on my years of living in Japan, you should have no problem enjoying traveling through Japan, or even a short stay in Japan without being able to speak Japanese. But…what about long term residents?

Can you live in Japan long term, or work in Japan without being able to speak or understand Japanese?

Yes? and no?… This is where things get more complicated. I think it depends on what your definition of ‘living’ in Japan is, I have known countless long-term expats (often dubbed ‘lifers’ within Japan’s expat community) who have lived in Japan for decades and can barely string-together a single sentence in Japanese. A lot of the time (and this is a massive stereotype of these kinds of foreigners in Japan), despite not knowing any Japanese, these kinds of foreigners often get by through assistance from their partner or friends.  Their social circles are often contained within the confines of the preverbal ‘English bubble.’

I personally fall hard into the camp of thinking that it is our responsibility as not only patrons of Japan, but also as representative’s of our home countries to learn Japanese. Not only with the goal of being able to communicate with those around you, but also with the goal of becoming as valuable a member of this society as possible. I’m going to be completely honest, and this is just my personal stance, but… what’s the point of living in Japan if your life is propped up on the support of those around you? This is not to say that you should feel bad if you can’t speak Japanese. However, if there is one things people in Japan will LOVE you for, it’s taking the effort to learn Japanese, and putting in the effort to learn as much about the Japanese culture as possible.

It has also been my experience living in Japan that in order to have a truly fulfilling life in this country, being able to speak Japanese is absolutely essential. The turn-over rate for foreigners in Japan is incredibly short (I believe the last time I checked the average foreigner in Japan will leave the country within 2 years.) This means that for people who only speak English, and only make friends with other English speakers, they’re often dooming themselves to a perpetual cycle of making friends with other English speakers and then having to say sayonara to them a few years later.

Wow, look at the cheeky way I used sayonara…

This dichotomy has lead to propensity for people to become guarded in Japan’s foreign community, with expats placing more stock in the number of years you have lived in the country. After only speaking to other foreigners for years, many people dawn this ‘in the trenches’ mentality where they only want to speak to people who are ultra-committed to living long-term in the country after seeing countless friends leave. I don’t mean to be so judgmental, but I think that it’s really important to have balance in your friend group, which really only becomes possible when you can speak fluent Japanese. Plus, speaking with Japanese natives has been most of the best experiences I have had in Japan. There is an incredible amount of responsibility you hold in Japan as the ‘foreigner that speaks Japanese’, but it is also an experience that opens so many doors for you. I have met so many amazing people, and have experienced so many amazing things that never would have been possible if I couldn’t speak Japanese. So, it’s true, you don’t NEED Japanese, but, for me personally, I don’t really see the point in living in Japan if you can’t speak Japanese. Sure, there are amazing things to see, eat , explore, but at the end of the end I’m here because I felt that through exploring and internalizing the unique manner in which people communicate in Japan in Japanese would allow me to become a better version of myself.

Okay, shabu shabu is almost enough to keep me in the country by itself.

The role foreigners still play in Japanese society, and why being able to speak Japanese will REALLY help you

No one else can make a meme this appropriate to my life, so I’m going to keep using it. No one can stop me! Life in Japan as a curly-haired Caucasian male in one image:

I have spoken many times before on this site this about the indirect mental association foreigners create for Japanese natives. Japan is still 98% ethnically homogenous, and is a country that pushes English education HARD, while at the same time being a nation that’s heavily risk-adverse culture results in a comparatively lower level of English comprehension when compared to other countries. In fact, Japan is one of the least English-literate countries on the planet. Through compulsory education Japanese students are taught that the outside world (lit. 海外, beyond the sea in Japanese) is a world wholly separate from the Japanese culture, values, and language; That being able to speak English, is to have the ability to converse with the outside world. Japan is an island, and the Japanese are an island people, after all. This perception places a LOT of pressure onto the Japanese population to perform well in English. Hospitality is an integral piece of the service puzzle, so to speak, and being able to speak English to a foreign patron may be the ultimate test. This should help you understand the meme I placed above.

This is what happens when you can’t speak Japanese in Japan.

So, what does this mean? Unfortunately (and this can also be a really great opportunity), the reality is that the average Japanese person will be afraid to talk to you before you can prove to them that you can speak Japanese. This means that every time you go to the convenience store, bank, movie theatre, dentist, you name it…you will be placed in a situation where if you don’t prove to people there that you can speak Japanese within 2-3 seconds, more often than not chaos will ensue…even if you can speak Japanese perfectly after this initial period. I’m not sure quite what to label this phenomenon, but there’s really no coming back once this happens in a lot of cases. Waiters will be so flustered they will forget your order. People will just be…suddenly a few feet farther away from you. People will get that glazed-over look in their eyes. The irony is that this reaction can actually take some time for you to learn how to spot. It can be pretty subtle.

Does this still happen to people who can speak fluent Japanese? Are Japanese people…racist?

There are always stubborn xenophobes who won’t budge no matter how good your Japanese is, or not matter how much you understand the culture. This happens everywhere, but unfortunately for us, there isn’t a culture in Japan of standing up for other people’s rights. I’ve been called “It” (これ) before, and just had some of my closest friends stand and laugh. They would then tell me how much of an a** that guy was, but confronting people directly just isn’t something that happens often in this country. Besides these kinds of people, I feel very comfortable in my Japanese ability now, but there are still days when I’m just exhausted, or maybe I even have a cold and just want to be left alone. Remember, it isn’t a test of whether or not you can speak Japanese. It’s a test of whether or not you can quickly demonstrate your ability to speak Japanese. Those are very different things.

I will say this. The average Japanese person is really nice, but also tends to be much more reserved towards the unknown than what we are used to in the West. The best way you can get people to open up, is too surprise them with your Japanese ability. You have all of the opportunity to take a difficult situation, and turn it into something awesome! Regardless of the ****** I talked about earlier, there are some really amazing people, and some awesome experiences you will get to have, and will only get to have if you can speak Japanese!

Things become much easier in Japan when you can speak Japanese

All in all, I would say that foreigners are treated well in Japan, and I’m really happy to live here! However, life in Japan really is what you make it. It’s cliché, and it’s also true. I’ve known so many long-term expats who were absolutely drowning in their own misery. They hated the people, the lifestyle, the food…and for some reason they still choose to stay here? I’ve also known some really proactive expats who took it upon themselves to carve out exactly the kind of life they want, and made efforts to surround themselves with positive people who also shared their upbeat outlook on life. Whether good or bad, things won’t just be handed to you, and you won’t instantly have the social life and lifestyle you want just because you decide to move to Japan. You need to work at it, and slowly chip away at yourself.

Look for the pink shirt

I often tell people that Japan exposes all of your weaknesses, and displays them boisterously to the world. I often compare life here, especially as a non-Asian expat, as being the only person in the room wearing a hot pink t-shirt, while everyone else is wearing muted colors. People will stare at you. They’ll ask you leading questions. “Wouldn’t a real man wear black?”, “wouldn’t a real woman wear something more subtle?”. The confident person can deflect these leading questions and handle them with style. They can turn these points into an interesting conversation that you can turn back on the people around you. The person full of self-doubt and secret insecurities will lash-out and get offended. This is the experience of living life in Japan. Every single day…and every single minute of every day, people will be questioning why you choose to wear that hot pink shirt, and when you’re going to change your clothes. Essentially, as a foreigner in Japan, you hold all of the cards. Everyone’s reaction is almost entirely dependent on how you choose to handle each situation. It is incredibly complicated, and is an incredible amount of pressure. It’s also an amazing opportunity. Being able to speak Japanese will simply allow you to begin responding.

In conclusion

In case you missed it, I absolutely think you need to learn Japanese if you are going to be living in Japan long-term! If you are thinking of studying Japanese, why not check out one of my other articles below?

Studying at Japanese University: One Strange Experience I Had

A bit about what I will cover in this article

After going over my experience studying in a Japanese university “zemi” course, I will go over some…strange things I noticed on a class field trip, including…bath time communication. Yeah…you read that right. Let’s get started!

A bit about my background and University Zemi’s in Japan

Hi, my name is Evan. I moved to Japan in early 2015, first to study Japanese at a Japanese language school in the heart of Osaka, and then later to enter Kwansei Gakuin University from 2016 to early 2020. In Japanese universities every student is assigned to an a zemi class (ゼミナール), an intensive seminar group of 10-20 students that study together, go on field trips together, and almost just as often go on nomikai drinking parties together! This zemi acts somewhat like your new university family. Really, it’s a bit like joining the Yakuza, or even the mafia. As a member of a zemi, the zemi is your life, and your life is the zemi.

Every zemi is a unique world in and of itself. Your teacher, dictate’s your fate, with the curriculum and overall vibe of each zemi class differing wildly. Essentially, choosing a zemi during your 2nd year of Japanese university dictates how the next 2 years of your life will go. What kind of connections do you want to make? What job opportunities can each zemi open up? What difficulty setting do you want to set for your own existence. These are the questions Japanese university students ask themselves before choosing their zemi class. Or…maybe they just join the zemi their friends join? I can’t speak for everyone, but one thing I did notice is how these varying levels of difficulty within zemi’s dictate the social and education dynamics towards the last two years of university in Japan. The students who want strive for challenges in their education tend to find themselves in similar zemi’s when this choice crops up.

What we studied at my zemi

Fair warning, i’m going to dive into some pretty heavy concepts in the next paragraph. Feel free to jump down to the next section if you want to read about Japanese drinking party fun, and my weird zemi story.

Every zemi also has a different theme, or subject of choice. This is heavily influenced by the teacher who runs each class. Our zemi’s theme was 「世界の中の日本のありさま」, which may be translated as “Japan’s place in the world.” Through the study of various texts relating to 日本人論 (Nihonjinron (日本人論, “theories/discussions about the Japanese”), is a genre of texts that focus on issues of Japanese national and cultural identity.), we would discuss subjects such as the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis, which is the theory that the language we speak limits the boundaries of how we may think. We studied further texts such as 日本人の仲間意識(Nihonjin no Nakama Ishiki), which explores the linguistic characteristics relating to how the Japanese language defines and indirectly attributes bias to the way relationships are formulated. This would become a topic closely linked to the topic of my final graduation thesis where I would cover the link between the Japanese concept of 遠慮 (can be loosely translated to restraint) and how relationships are defined within the Japanese society. There’s more and more, but I won’t attempt to translate so many concepts that only exist within the context of the Japanese language.

What it’s like studying at a Japanese university. Drinking with your teacher every week???

It’s true! Every week the Asahi super dry would be unleashed. Kanpai after kanpai (kanpai means cheers in Japanese), jug after jug, and toast after toast, Japanese drinking parties play an important role in Japanese society. Very important! In fact, there is a unique Japanese word that encompasses this entire social dynamic: 無礼講 (Bureiko). Bureiko is a Japanese term for the minor breakdown of rules that tends to occur at nomikai, or Japanese drinking parties. This dynamic is very complex, but, put simply, drinking parties in Japan allow people to set aside all of the rules of Japan’s social hierarchy. Everyone can do what they want, and act how they want. Really. You can say almost anything to your teacher or boss and get away with it. This is the concept of bureiko. What happens at the nomikai, stays at the nomikai. Im fact, this bureiko dynamic can lead to some awkward situations.

It is of my opinion that much of the Japanese work ethic is centered around this concept of building up to the bureiko. In Japan, showing one’s effort is typically more respected than showing good results from those efforts. This leads to an emphasis placed on the process, or as i prefer to refer to them: the formalities. Japan is chock FULL of formalities, none of these so visible as the formalities seen in Japan’s working and student culture. I do believe that Japan places so much emphasis on the number of hours worked, because more hours worked = a bigger celebration when all of the work is done. This dynamic can be seen in Japan’s countless drinking parties, which also permeate a large part of Japanese university life. When i say drinking party, I’m of course referring to nomikai one has with their colleagues and coworkers. You NEED to work to build up that nomikai, whether you want to go or not! After all, everyone else is going!

The beginning of my culture shock; weird experiences with Japanese university drinking parties

And this dynamic can be funny, because what happens at nomikai really does stay at nomikai. I noticed again and again that people i been having a blast with at nomikai could barely make eye contact with me the next day. At this moment I truly realized to what extent Japanese relationships rely on situational circumstances. University friends are university friends. Nomikai friends are friends in the context of THAT nomikai. In Japan, relationships (including the relationship one has to their own identity) shift to accommodate their surroundings. Actually, you can read more about this here in the first article I ever wrote for this site. I’ll go into this more later in this article!

Our Zemi trip to Nara, and the time complete strangers bonded over Japanese bath time.

A common component of the Japanese university zemi, is the Japanese university gasshuku. What is a gasshuku? It’s essentially a field trip, but typically involves staying overnight at some far-away area, often cross-country. Gasshuku’s also typically involve a myriad of group activities and (very Japanese) intermingling.

Ohhhh so honorable, so collective! So…Japanese!

In my 3rd year of Japanese university we went on an overnight gasshuku to Nara, Japan, so a few hours away from where I was living at the time near Osaka. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I just knew that we were going to Nara, there was going to be some kind of project or group presentation, and I was going to be sleeping on a tatami mat with 3 other Japanese guys (and bathing with 3 other Japanese guys! The soap and communication shall flow, and nothing can stop it!

*I will go more into this…’bathing’ style of communication later. Bathing style of communication IS a given if you are going to be living in Japan. The SOAP WILL FLOW! JAPANESE PEOPLE CAN’T SAY NO! FRIENDSHIP GROWS (cue ancient tribal music).

Arriving at Nara

I arrive at deer-filled Nara, full of vigor and hope! “Oh, for this will be the greatest Japanese university adventure I have yet! Mystery! Communication! I…group presentation!!! (yay…..) and group bath time!!! These are the feats of adventure that make the Japanese life oh-so-spicy! …wait…group…bath time??? Yeah, i’ll get to that. As we arrive we commence initial introductions and pleasantries. I was the only non-Japanese there (a cliché thing to say, but absolutely true in this case) in a group of around 100 people. Heading into the main lobby hall, there were students from other universities’ zemi’s gathered in the area from other schools in the Kansai region. All of the teachers from the different surrounding area’s international major programs were pretty buddy-buddy, and were planning the projects were going to participate in for the day. (Majors in Japanese universities tend to be much more broad.)

We would then engage in a series of group discussions centered on how technology could impact globalism in the future. For example, virtual reality augmenting the experience of long-term communication and business meetings, etc. As shown in the picture above, we would draw out a plan or idea on a piece of paper and present it to the rest of the group.

When the weird culture shock things started happening.

I have covered earlier how there is this strong tendency in Japanese culture of categorizing relationships based on very specific criteria. Put simply, relationships in Japan, much more than what I was used to growing up in the US, are dependent on circumstance. As I had said, classmates are classmates, and drinking party friends are drinking party friends. It’s a pretty rare thing to make friends with somebody at a drinking party, and then continue where you left off on Monday morning. These circumstances are entirely separate from each other in many cases in Japanese culture, and this is also true in Japanese university life.

At this zemi event we had group discussions, lunch, another group discussion, bath time, a final group discussion. You might see where I’m going with this (lol). As we began our group discussion, everyone in the struggled to make eye contact. The simple act of uttering their name and favorite hobby would become the event of the hour. Humility, distance, restraint, and…a lot of awkwardness. These quality filled the room like a heavy humid-filled cloud. It was time to do the ‘Japanese introduction at a new formal event’ style of conversation.

SWITCH! The beginning of weird happenings at the Japanese university zemi

It’s lunch time! People are supposed to have fun, laugh, and be close friends during lunch time! Stories of hobbies, the trip over, and even everyone’s favorite movie become the topic of conversation. Everyone is having fun, enjoying their meal, and settling in. “Oh, well I guess they just needed some extra time to feel comfortable around each other. Japanese people are known for their shyness, after all. A bell rings and it’s time for us to resume our group presentations.

SWITCH AGAIN. Back to the weird creepy distance zone.

The moment everyone returns to the lobby, things seem…off? I couldn’t help but feel this distance between everyone again. Also, I could tell that for most of the people assigned to my group, none of them had a lot (if any) experience talking to a foreigner before. I could tell they had no idea how to talk to me, but I was pretty used to that at this point. The thing that perplexed me was how much they were struggling to talk to each other. And they were NERVOUS. In fact, they made me, the foreigner, give the group’s presentation in Japanese (of course) to the 100 or-so attendee’s who were there. Well…maybe they didn’t force me to, but nobody else volunteered. So I got up and did my thing…maybe they just got tired? Maybe the trip was long? Maybe Japanese university students are just…awkward? As hard as that is to say…

BATH TIME! This is when I knew things were getting…weird

Despite the fact that having a designated time for 100 people to go “Take a bath!” is pretty hilarious to me in and of itself, THEY DID THE SWITCHING THING AGAIN! I guess maybe I have some bias since I obviously was surrounded by guys, but everyone else seemed to open up…to a non-human degree once they all ran into the bathes together! The thing is too, this was a Japanese onsen-style open bath, which means 50 Japanese guys were lined up completely naked, sitting on a little stool bathing themselves. I guess in a way… I did the switching thing, in an opposite way. I was talking a bit to people around me, but they were having… a little bit too much fun in their for my own personal comfort levels.

Only in Japan will people feel more open talking to each other with their junk hanging out than when they’re sitting in a circle introducing themselves (fully-clothed of course.)

I suppose the group dynamic gave people permission to open up more? But…I can’t help but feel that these other Japanese university students felt some kind of obligation to…have fun in the bath? Yeah… I said it. It probably doesn’t have as much to do with the bath as it does with adjusting to the overall atmosphere of each particular situation. Bath time just happens to be fun time! Who woulda guessed?

The build up to the drinking party: A Japanese university staple

It’s a stale of any Japanese academic or work environment really. People work, work, work, so they can enjoy that pint of Asashi super dry with their classmates or coworkers after-hours. This even was no exception, with presentations going on for 6 or 7 hours, only to explode when the mountain of cheap beer and chu-hai was unveiled. It’s a group dynamic so common that it would be some general reverse culture shock for me to have any work or school gathering without alcohol at this point. It’s a real part of Japanese social dynamics that never fails to make me laugh a little bit at how contrived, but also how fun it can be.

In conclusion

I wanted to talk about this story to demonstrate just how extreme this shift in social dynamics can be depending on the situation in Japan. In all of my 7 years living in this country, this was by far the most blatant example, and probably the most humorous one too.

If you want to learn more about my experiences studying in Japan university or studying at a Japanese language school, please click one of the these links, or one of the articles below. I hope you will enjoy reading through this site and discovering my perspective on life in Japan and the Japanese culture and language.

How to Use 3 Prong Plugs in Japan? Here’s an Easy Solution!

In order to use your 3 prong plugs with Japan’s 2 prong outlets, you simply need to purchase a 2 Prong to 3 prong outlet adapter, which you will plug all of your devices into directly, which you will then plug directly into the 2 prong outlet. While the slightly lower voltage may slightly affect charging times and device performance in a very minor way, I have personally never noticed a difference noticeable enough to bother me in any significant way. This is a really simple fix, and I will show you exactly what you need to do, and what you need to buy to use these kinds of devices in Japan.

Which 3 prong to 2 prong adaptor should you purchase?

While there are many 2 to 3 prong adapter power strips and power banks, I personally have never taken the adaptor off any of my devices in my 7 years of living in Japan. A lot of that is because…well… I live here! For portability and convenience sake, I would suggest buying individual adapters, and just leaving them on your 3 prong plugs for as long as you are in Japan.

Cable Matters 3-Pack UL Listed 2 Prong to 3 Prong Adapter (3 Prong to 2 Prong Adapter)

I linked the product I am personally using below, so you can purchase the adapter that has worked for me for the last 7 years at this Amazon link!

*This site is an Amazon affiliate, and receives a small percentage of sales. However, I will NEVER recommend products I haven’t personally used and found to be genuine quality.

I have done it now for 7 years, so you should have absolutely no issues. Trust me…you really don’t want to face the situation below.

Avoid this situation

There’s nothing worse than getting off the plane, riding out to your hotel, jet-lagged and exhausted beyond measure you fumble your way through checking into your Tokyo hotel, take the elevator up to your room, and you finally get to your oh-so refreshing washiki traditional Japanese futon set-up. You sit down, ready to unwind and look into your itinerary for the next few days. You pull out your laptop, go to plug it in, look at the 3 prong plug and Japan’s 2 prong outlets, die inside a little bit, and then shout to the heavens in rage.

“Why!? Why have you forsaken me!? Sweet gods of juice and tech!”

Then the hotel staff will probably come to your room, passive-aggressively beg for you to please consider the feelings and situation of those around you who are currently getting the full inside-scoop on your little tantrum, and then cry yourself to sleep…on a very comfortable futon.

Hey, just because you’re wrapped in silk sheets doesn’t mean you can’t go through some serious 1st-world trauma for the ages. But…wait…could I even use my devices in Japan, even if I could somehow connect them? Is it safe to use electronics manufactured outside of Japan with Japan’s 2 prong outlets? This…was something that bothered me as well, so I thought I would provide you with some cold, hard facts regarding Japan’s power outlet voltage, and how you can adapt your devices for use w

Is voltage the same in Japan as it is in the US? Is it safe to use US devices in Japan?

The voltage in Japan is 100V, which is the lowest in the world and different from the United States (110-120V). Put simply, it is completely safe to products manufactured for the US in Japan, although there are rare instances where you may run into problems in the opposite situation. Using some products that are manufactured in Japan with US outlets can cause issues in some cases. The difference in voltage is mostly negligible, but the the safest way to use Japanese products in the US is to use a step-down transformer to convert 120-volt electric to the 100-volt electricity needed by the appliance. However, if you are reading this article, you’re probably more concerned with using American products in Japan, so let’s go over how you can do that.

In conclusion

If you are looking into this issue, chances are you are heading to Japan soon? If you are heading to Tokyo for a trip, I have laid out my recommendation for a first night’s itinerary full of awesome activities, that I have chosen based on my own personal experiences showing friends around Japan over the years. If you are interested in exploring Japan (with your new fancy 2 to 3 prong adaptor!), and exploring some cool locations and experiences relatively off the beaten-path, you should check out the article I have linked below!

Is it Okay to Use Manga to Study Japanese? My Experience

The most dangerous situation for a new Japanese learner.
Aaand I just made it worse.

While I don’t read manga as much anyone after having lived in Japan going on 7 years now (now i’m living the manga?), I have used manga regularly in my Japanese study routines. In my 8 years of studying Japanese, I found that manga can be used to study Japanese in a pretty specific way. Let me guide you through how I studied Japanese, and how I used manga to study Japanese over the years.

About my experience studying Japanese while living in Japan, and how you can use manga to supplement your Japanese studies.

I think that through understanding how I personally used manga in my Japanese study routine, you can understand the role I believe manga can play in assisting your Japanese studies. So, when did I start learning Japanese, and when did I come to Japan? While I learned Japanese in the US for a little over a year beginning in 2013, I would eventually move to Japan. After having studied Japanese in my Japanese university, and somehow making tons of international friends, I decided to take the plunge; If I was going to pursue studying Japanese and dabble in living abroad…it was going to be all in.

In 2014 after 1 year I decided to leave my university in the US, and in early 2015 I moved to my fresh new accommodation in Osaka, Japan. I was now studying at a Japanese language school? So…did I use manga to study Japanese at this point? Not quite yet. Actually, at this point I wasn’t that interested in manga, while this would change as over the months as I would settle more into life in Japan, and would search for new ways to immerse myself in the Japanese language at all hours of the day.

How manga can be used to help you learn Japanese; How and when to use manga as a proper Japanese study tool

Me and my Japanese language school class, 2015

My first year in Japan, and for a many years after, my ultimate Japanese-learning-goal was to achieve total immersion. Essentially, I wanted to be able to have a fulfilling life completely and entirely using only the Japanese language, if need be. That doesn’t mean that I never used English of course, but what it does mean is that I was ON a lot of the time. On the train I would be studying signs and billboards. At the restaurant I would be looking up new kanji on the menu I didn’t know. In the Don Quijote (a store in Japan famous for having some of the most amazingly strange things on sale) I would be learning from the male model underwear gag kit packaging. It didn’t matter. If there was Japanese on it, I would read it, internalize it, memorize it, and forget it if I accidentally learned something horrifying that I wanted out of my brain. I go more into this experience learning from my surroundings a bit more in my article How to Teach Yourself Japanese; My Experience.

How I used manga to study Japanese

So, why am I telling you this? Well, manga was the perfect tool that allowed me to achieve the endurance necessary to maintain this lifestyle for as many hours of the day as possible. By studying my onigiri off during the day, and reading some manga, or maybe playing some games at night, it allowed me to continue to expose myself to the language for longer periods of time without getting tired. Put simply, reading manga is a great way to continue exposing yourself to the Japanese language, even if you are too tired to properly study. Just…be careful not to use it as a crutch.

Manga is a great tool to use to practice Japanese, but there are much more efficient ways to LEARN

I would say this is a general rule I followed: If I was trying to learn something new in Japanese, I would almost NEVER use manga. This is because stylistically, manga often plays with the rules of the Japanese language to land some joke, or to create a certain tone, and more often than not, the kind of Japanese that you see in manga is just not very practical. With some exceptions (I do often recommend Death Note to people who want to read a manga with relatively normal Japanese), the majority of the Japanese you see in manga will almost always be overdramatic, period-sensitive, or just generally rude in a lot of cases.

I have never heard somebody say temei~ in real life. I don’t think that is a thing that actually happens to real people.

How to choose a good manga for studying Japanese

…you want to looking for a manga that is set in mondern-day Japan. Generally, the more mundane the setting, the better. You should focus on finding a manga-equivalent to an interesting character study that is full of context-sensitive content, and is dialogue-centric rather than action-centric. Think Death Note vs. Demon Slayer. Death note is a good manga to use to practice Japanese as a series ‘battle of the wits’ stories that is full of modern dialogue-heavy scenes, while Demon slayer is trying to achieve a certain ancient aesthetic, and is pretty much just an endless series of things that will distract you from reading Japanese…let’s be honest…and I like Demon Slayer! That being said, it definitely isn’t a good resource for you to practice Japanese.

So…you can’t use manga to learn new Japanese?

I wouldn’t say that is entirely the case. One thing manga is great for is studying how to read different kanji. Why? Because manga are written so that children can also read them, which means that most manga as have the furigana written beside all but the most basic kanji in the book. What is furigana? Check the picture below! Furigana are small hiragana or katakana characters that are written beside a kanji, that explain to the reader how the character is pronounced. One of the most difficult things about learning Japanese are the multiple ways to read kanji characters, and reading manga can be great practice to help you learn the multiple readings of Japanese kanji.

The top black characters are furigana

The first and most important step to starting to learn Japanese; Choosing the right textbook. My personal recommendation!

I always recommend to my readers the book I personally started with: GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (English and Japanese Edition)

There are many many reasons why I like this textbook, but my main reason would be this: Genki 1 teaches you how the essentials, while also giving you the essential skills you need to teach yourself Japanese. After using Genki 1 and absorbing all of it’s juicy contents, you should have no problem reading a considerable amount of Japanese characters, understanding basic conversations, the most essential grammar points, and you will understand a LOT more about the way Japanese is actually used in everyday life in Japan. So many textbooks I have seen dole out information in a treadmill-like fashion, giving you tons of useful vocabulary you will only see in textbooks. Studying Japanese through Genki 1 was really efficient, and the book is also really corny in a fun, Japanese kind of way. Definitely check it out. It’s a bit pricey, but I think you will actually save money in the long run by purchasing this book, because it really does give you everything you need to get you through your first year or so of Japanese study. It’s totally worth it.

If you are studying Japanese but are lost on what to do, check out the other articles below!

Anime Recommendations From a Guy in Japan Who Isn’t Really Into Anime. Which Anime Should You Start With?

If you are a looking for a few options, here you go! In this article I go into why I recommend each anime, as well as my experience discovering anime in my late teens and early 20’s.

Here are a few anime you should start with

In my opinion the first anime you should start with is Spirited Away by Death Note, Attack on Titan, or anything by Studio Ghibli. From Studio Ghibli, I would recommend Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or my personal favorite The Wind Rises.

So…i’m a guy who lives in Japan…and doesn’t watch (much) anime. THAT…is a little rare!

Hi, my name is Evan, and I’ve lived in Japan since early 2015. I started studying Japanese because some videos of foreign expats studying abroad in Japan somehow popped up in my recommended feed of one of my YouTube videos, back in around 2010 or 2011. I really don’t know how that happened. I don’t watch anime, and I really never had any real interest in Japan, or other languages or cultures growing up. At least, not in a direct way. Over the next few years I would dabble in the cultural differences between the US and Japan as a mild hobby, which I would eventually pursue as the main focus of my higher education and career as the years went on.

The moment I realized I was alone…oh, so alone and the moment I admitted it…:”I’ve never watched anime!”

I remember sitting in my first day of Japanese class in late August of 2013. The teacher looked around at all of the new students, and enthusiastically asked the class one question; “I want you all to tell me, why are you interested in studying Japanese?” It must have become routine from her. “How many people here are studying Japanese because they’re interested in anime?”

The hands shoot up

And I kid you not, I looked around the room, and of the around 30 students, i’m pretty sure I was the only one who didn’t raise their hand.

And this part is funny

The teacher, Nagase Sensei, wanted to know why I was there. I think I answered something like how I was interested in things like honne and tatemae (An important concept in Japanese society. I would summarize it as the difference between your ‘phone voice’ , and how you talk with your friends, only even more pronounced.) “Oh, and i’ve actually never really watched anime before.”

I swear I’m not making this up. I actually heard an audible gasp from somewhere in the room. Like, you know the kinds of gasps that are the only thing that can interrupt the kind of canned laughter you would find your average sitcom? That kind of gasp. And to be honest, people were kind of weird towards me from there on out. Once I passed their initiation and watched a few episodes of Death Note, One Piece, etc, then I was accepted a bit more into the weebdom that was that class.

So, I had never seen an anime until I was 18 years old and I’ve now been living in Japan for over 6 years.

Okay, that isn’t entirely true.

I was pretty obsessed with the Pokémon anime when I was 8.

does Pokémon even count as an anime?

Of course it does! I don’t care what you say! That being said, the English localizers went through some serious effort to strip that show of most of its cultural roots. Perhaps the most infamous example being when they spent what seemed like whole seasons walking around talking about… eating donuts? What they were actually eating was a Japanese rice ball (onigiri). But oh no…we Americans were much-too chunky to comprehend this ancient and foreign tradition known as a “rice ball”. DONUTS!… DONUTS! If it doesn’t have donuts, we ain’t having it. At least, that’s what whoever localized Pokémon in the late 90’s early 2000’s assumed. I remember also seeing the English dub for Dragon Ball when I was a kid…and I just couldn’t ever get into it. As much as it might make people angry, even when I was 8 years old, I just found the whole thing to be…weird…if I’m being completely honest. And now I live in Japan! It’s pretty rare to have never watched anime until you were an adult, and also be a foreigner that happens to live in Japan. Wow, look at me, so special!

Which anime should I start with? Anime is… weird right?

I thought this way. In fact, I still do to an extent (cue angry emoji meme). I will say that if you watch a few series, you do get used to the timing of anime. There are a few things that you will likely notice when you first start watching anime. First: the length and amount of monologues. Character monologues where they go through every move, every intention, what they had for breakfast…what they will have for breakfast…taking a potato chip out of a bag AND EATING IT (this is a pretty famous one if you don’t know), these are all things you will actually hear in anime. Another thing you will notice, kind of similar to the first point, is the amount of emoting and ‘gasp’ sound effects.

“He decided to eat some apple cobbler for breakfast. Adorned in fresh apples and decadent caramel sauce, he decided not to each it with a knife and fork. He was going to use his hands! He picked up the cobbler with his bare hands!” *GASP*.

There’s a Growkaru original, just for you. Did you like it? So, why is this the case? Why is anime chock-full of stuff like this?

Here are my 2 anime recommendations to start with if you have never watched anime before

1. Death Note

This is the one I started with, and I think it’s a great one to help ease you into many of the common anime tropes. The setting is relatively grounded and close to real-world Japan, and there have been a number of live-action adaptations. It’s just a great story, that tapers off a bit in quality towards the end of the series, but is definitely worth watching. I think that this anime is perfectly okay to study Japanese from, as well, since the setting is so grounded (although I wouldn’t copy anyone’s Japanese pronunciation in the series.)

What is the story in Death Note about?

Light is one of the brightest students in all of Japan! He’s also clearly a massive narcists because of it. One day, a mysterious notebook falls from the sky. It comes with instructions too (that’s convenient!) ;Any persons name you write in this notebook will die, in the manner you describe, at the specific time you describe (or something like this). The thing that makes this story so good, is that the main character considers almost every thing you are possibly thinking about how this might work, and how he should use it. Should he use the notebook to kill criminals or dictators? Can you use the notebook to decide your own death? Etc, etc. These rules get really convoluted, and interesting! The thing that makes the story phenomenal is the rivalry between the main character, Light, and the private investigator who begins tracking him down, codenamed “L”. Light is a traditional genius, while L is eccentric and thinks outside the box. The majority of the story is a battle of wits between Light and “L”, where Light tries to use the notebook, while also hiding his method of murder, and “L” uses mind games to track Light down. It’s great stuff. The first season in particular is oh-so-good. I…think I’m going to go re-watch it now!

2. Attack on Titan

If you’re looking for something that’s a little less dialogue-heavy, than this is a great choice. While I wouldn’t recommend you use this to study Japanese, this is one example of an anime that I think is actually much better than the manga. This is because of the amount of action, and because of the fact that…let’s be honest, Hajime Isayama is a MUCH BETTER writer than visual artist. Some of the art is the first few manga’s is just…yeah… But the story, characters, and action are great!

What is the story in Attack on Titan about?

I think this is one that is better to go into relatively blind. I’ll just say this; dual-katana wielding militia arm equip themselves with grappling-hook-like launchers that allow them to fight against giant man-eating…giants, that can only be killed by a slash to the neck. Oh, and everybody lives inside of a giant 3-wall layered city system, complete with all of the politics of who gets to live in center wall farthest away from the outside monsters, etc. It’s good action, propped out by good world-building. I will say, the animation quality takes a big dive after the first season. I’m not really sure what happened there. Nevertheless, it’s a good option to ease yourself into watching anime if you want a compelling story, world, and threat, but with less dialogue than Death Note. Plus, with the final season recently releasing, you can now watch the whole thing all the way through to the end!

Where can I watch it Attack on Titan?

Unfortunately, Attack on Titan is no longer available on Netflix outside of Japan, Thailand, and a few other countries. I do think that the first season is good enough to warrant purchasing, so I have included the link for the Attack on Titan Season 1 Blu Ray here.

*I am an Amazon affiliate, and receive a small percentage of profits it you purchase via the link above. I ONLY recommend products I generally like, and it’s a great way to support what I do and this site.*

Is the Attack on Titan movie worth watching?

No. (lol)

Why there are so many monologues in anime?

Anime is full of these tropes, because almost all anime is adapted from manga. I’m willing to bet that you can probably read faster than what would typically be normal for a conversation, right? This is especially the case with manga, since it is a mix between a visual and written medium. Manga are designed to be flipped through FAST. This means that most readers go through conversations far faster than what would be possible to translate to proper voice acting, etc. Manga are designed to convey the ‘feeling’ of a scene. They thrive on doling out very specific details and character traits through the kinds of motion possible in a drawn-medium. This is why the infamous Death Note scene where the main character dramatically eats a potato chip…a maybe a little hammy in the manga, but is absolutely hilarious in the anime. A 2 minute-long montage about a potato-chip-eating-experience is much, much more to take-in than a few pages in a manga. Manga have a lot more freedom when it comes to the pacing of the story, however, every episode of an anime has to conform to a specific runtime, and needs to include a cliff-hanger or some kind of reason for the viewer to tune-in to the next episode. A lot of the time, these cliff-hangers or natural stopping points just don’t exist in the manga, so a lot of storylines in anime get dragged out. So, for this reason I prefer manga not only for the faster pace, but also because I find it to be a better Japanese practice tool, in my personal experience.

If you are thinking of studying Japanese

If you are ready to take the plunge and begin your Japanese-studying journey, you should do this with means other than watching anime! Anime is a good practice tool, but it’s a terrible study tool. So, if you are serious about learning Japanese, but you’re a bit lost on where to start, please check out some of the other articles I have written below.

My Experience; What is the Best Way to Learn Japanese Outside of Japan?

An all-too-common scenario…

I’ve personally wasted a lot of time on inefficient Japanese study habits over the years, in particular before I moved to Japan. I believe that the best way to learn Japanese effectively outside of Japan, in my experience, is to provide yourself with an environment of ‘active immersion.’ So, how can you do this?

In this article I will go over some of my own personal experiences studying Japanese in the US for over a year before I moved to Japan, as well as things I learned through my own personal experiences after moving to Japan. I have gathered a ton of experience in studying the Japanese language after living here for nearly 7 years, and would love to help save you time and frustration by sharing some of my experiences.

How can you avoid this situation? How to avoid bad habits while studying Japanese outside of Japan.

The biggest mistake people make when studying Japanese outside of Japan, is that they neglect the ‘active’ aspects of language learning. This becomes an issue, because reading and listening to Japanese uses different areas of your brain than actively producing Japanese does. I’m not a scientist, but when you reach a certain level of Japanese, you can actually feel this cognitive switch to a certain degree. I know I can, and I have heard many other people say this. Whereas as passive language comprehension is an exercise in processing information , active learning requires not only creativity, but a larger amount of cultural context and awareness of various situations in the Japanese society. A good example of this may be, you may have perfect reading comprehension, but that doesn’t make you a good writer. Essentially, you need to re-learn all of these essential skills from scratch to be able to perform at a similar level in Japanese. Most people who aren’t forced into a situation where they will need to communicate in a target language focus almost entirely on passive language learning, and as a result can barely speak when they get to Japan. You can include me in this group.

So, where should you start?

So, if you are going to study Japanese outside of Japan, it is really important to put yourself in an environment that allows for active language learning. But how do you do that? Well, before you can start creating your own sentences, and participating in conversations in an active way, first you will need to create a base level of language comprehension through passive learning. Passive learning is just as important, if not more important than active learning. The key is to have more balance between the two styles. So, how can you start building Japanese language comprehension through passive learning.

The first and most important step to starting to learn Japanese; Choosing the right textbook. My personal recommendation!

I always recommend to my readers the book I personally started with: GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (English and Japanese Edition)

There are many many reasons why I like this textbook, but my main reason would be this: Genki 1 teaches you how the essentials, while also giving you the essential skills you need to teach yourself Japanese. After using Genki 1 and absorbing all of it’s juicy contents, you should have no problem reading a considerable amount of Japanese characters, understanding basic conversations, the most essential grammar points, and you will understand a LOT more about the way Japanese is actually used in everyday life in Japan. So many textbooks I have seen dole out information in a treadmill-like fashion, giving you tons of useful vocabulary you will only see in textbooks. Studying Japanese through Genki 1 was really efficient, and the book is also really corny in a fun, Japanese kind of way. Definitely check it out. It’s a bit pricey, but I think you will actually save money in the long run by purchasing this book, because it really does give you everything you need to get you through your first year or so of Japanese study. It’s totally worth it.

Japanese characters look really complicated? How is a textbook going to help me learn that?

I actually went over how to begin learning the Japanese alphabets in this article here (I also explain which alphabet you should learn first) if you want to get the most out of the Genki 1 textbook.

The first step towards studying Japanese in an active way; Shadowing

What is shadowing?

Shadowing is the process of mimicking the intonation, timing, and pronunciation of a native speaker. The key to doing this effectively is repetition. Literally replay a recording of a native speaker saying something and repeat it back over and over, say 10 times a day. How does this work? Well, it will seem redundant in the moment, but what will happen over time is that you pick up on not only the subtleties of native speech, but also the thought process. If you purchased Genki 1, the textbook also comes with a CD of recorded conversations that correspond with each section of the book. This CD is perfect for practicing shadowing, since these conversations are short, concise, and (mostly) practical. Really though, it will work with any native spoken Japanese. Just be sure to avoid practicing with anime until you reach a certain level, since the way people speak in anime is almost always overly-dramatized, and uses different setting-appropriate vocabulary, etc.

What about learning how to write in Japanese?

Repetition is king, and shadowing for writing works in a similar way. By rewriting sentences from a range of texts written by native speakers, you will be able to subconsciously internalize the exact nuance of how different words form together. I also recommend this process for learning kanji, since this is very close to the way Japanese kids learn how to write in Japanese. Repetition in the pursuit of mastery is an essential aspect of not only Japanese language learning, but also Japanese society in general, and it is especially important when studying Japanese outside of Japan, since you will be lacking some of that natural exposure. You can see an example of this in the image below, which I used in another article I wrote: How to Teach Yourself Japanese; My Experience, where I outline some of techniques I use in my everyday life in Japan to study Japanese.

Example: How to actively memorize Kanji through writing exercises

Writing the same character over and over again, and providing yourself context for it’s actual use with an example sentence is a great way to remind yourself why you are studying each character in the first place. This will not only motivate you, but will also internalize the exact nuance of how each word should be used.

To truly get good at speaking Japanese, you need to practice speaking with Japanese people. Here are some different options for practicing with native speakers:

1. Hello Talk

Hello talk is a language exchange app that pairs you with speakers of your target language, who are also learning your native language. There are a lot of native Japanese speakers using this app, so I ithink this is a great resource you can use to actively learn Japanese while living outside of Japan.

The app also has a really useful correction function (you can see the mistake is crossed out above) that makes it really easy to offer quick corrections to other people.

Talking to people on the app is a great exercise in and of itself, but the thing I find myself using most often in-app is the timeline feature. Essentially, you can post any language question you may be thinking in your timeline, and you will almost always get an answer relatively quickly. Plus, as you gain more followers in-app, your posts will show up for other people more often. It’s a good positive feedback loop where you find yourself getting really efficient and helpful advice, and then return the favor, making it really easy to make friends. You also have the option to make free calls to other users in-app if you’re feeling brave (You should definitely do this! Take advantage of the internet!) Hello Talk is free, so there’s no reason not to check it out.

2. Study Japanese through Discord communities

There are many Japanese-English language exchange servers that you coin join that often have live-chat and language study support systems. This is another great way to encourage yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. When I was studying in university in Japan, I would jump into Splatoon 2 and servers at it’s peak popularity speak in (usually) all Japanese chat rooms. I offer this with a hint of hesitation for a few different reasons, however. First, many of the Japanese-English servers are very English-centric. They’re full of teenagers dabbling in learning Japanese because they’re into anime, etc. Basically, the conversations would often be very English-centric, and it could sometimes be a struggle to find a good environment to actually study in. As far as entering all-Japanese servers (like the Splatoon 2 server I joined), it can be very, very intimidating. Often times, you will be the only foreigner who has ever joined these servers, and the difficult ceiling can be really difficult since these servers are often chock-full of inside jokes, internet slang, memes, etc. It’s an amazing opportunity, but it’s the proverbial equivalent of launching yourself out of a cannon into the deep end. If you’re up for the challenge, search for some servers in Japanese and give it a shot! Just don’t let yourself get discouraged if you find it too hard. It’s not an easy environment to get into.

Here are the discord servers I used to study Japanese

This is an old post, and some of the information may be outdated, but here is a master list of language learning servers I found on reddit. Check it out! They have multiple servers listed for learning Japanese.

In conclusion; What is the best way to learn Japanese outside of Japan?

The best way to learn a language is through total immersion. However, it isn’t enough to only expose yourself to Japanese through media, or by watching movies. You need to place yourself in situations that demand you actively express yourself and interact with other people through the use of the Japanese language. With more tools available online that ever before (even more than just the 7 years since I moved to Japan) , there is no reason why you cannot be some kind of language-learning hermit, spend all day talking to Japanese people online, and emerge from your room fully fluent, competent, and comfortable in the Japanese language. Now, the kinds of real-life interactions, experiences, and memories you will form while actually living your life in Japan are invaluable. I don’t think you can ever reach your full potential in the Japanese language while living outside of Japan, because so much of the Japanese language is culturally based. Understand the minute-to-minute social cues of everyday life is essential, and knowing how to act versus having real-life experience are two very different things. That being said, you can get to a very high level nowadays. I have met some people who only study online who have blown me away with how well they can speak. So, by utilizing the techniques I have laid out in this article, as well as other techniques from articles I will attach below, I believe you can progress very far on your own, while still living in your own country!

If you are planning on seriously studying Japanese.

Also, if you haven’t already, you really should consider picking up Genki 1. It will save you a ton of time. Time spent searching for free resources or YouTube videos is time you could have spent actually studying. If you’re taking this seriously, consider investing in your own future and take a dive down the Genki rabbit-hole. You won’t regret it!

You will learn a LOT from Genki 1…

If you are looking for other articles on how to teach yourself Japanese, check out the related articles below.

Why Are There Still Arcades in Japan? My Experience

Japan’s living conditions being what they are, small homes and paper-thin walls are not uncommon. Because of how Japan’s infrastructure gradually shifted to accommodate a more population-dense society, many facets of Japanese life are designed to be enjoyed primarily outside of the home. This includes arcades!

The reason why there are still arcades in Japan? My experience

Let me tell you a story! For new readers who may not know, I went to university in Japan. My apartment complex had an affiliation to my University, which put my apartment complex in some weird middle-ground situation of not being a dorm, but only having tenants who attended my university. My point being; everyone who lived in my apartment complex was in their early-to-mid twenties. Everyone knows that when surrounding yourself with people in their early-to-mid 20’s, you’re almost sure to find somebody who is into SMASH. By “SMASH”, I mean “Super Smash Bros.”, as in, the Nintendo game! I was able to experience a clear demonstration of the paper-like quality of Japanese apartment sound insulation when I would go to bed almost every night to the serenade of Kirby, Link, and Captain Falcon.

Nap time? No, no , no, it’s Falcon punch time!!!

This is because the person next to me loved hosting Super Smash Bros. house parties, and apparently my neighbor also happened to love Kirby. I would wake up at 2 am to a vacuum-like sound effect. This love for Kirby was fierce, and it didn’t matter what time it was. 2AM? 3AM? It doesn’t matter; Kirby is ready, Kirby is willing, and Kirby is about to disrupt your sleep schedule. His hunger will never be satiated…

So…all Japanese apartments are like this?

Japanese apartments have some really bad sound insulation… which provides a demand for public entertainment spaces like arcades in Japan

Well, it depends. Most apartments in Japan have a very low noise tolerance, meaning most apartments in Japan don’t have the sound insulation to keep the sound effects of a rogue 2AM Kirby or Captain Falcon at bay. In general, it’s more fun to play communal games like Smash at Japan’s many game bars or arcades, because most of the time spent with your friends in a Japanese apartment will be worrying about sound pollution and disturbing your neighbors. Apartments are smaller on average (apartments here are measured by the number of tatami mats you can fit on the floor. Imagine if apartments in the West were measured in ‘Tiles’ instead of square meters or feet… This can put some things in perspective, because in Japan, most people live in apartments. Japan’s living conditions create a situation where most people would rather enjoy typical activities someone in a Western country would enjoy in their home, while they are out-and-about. This makes arcades a very integral part of the social ecosystem for many people, leading to arcades still remaining popular in Japan to this day. Not just arcades, but the entire public entertainment industry as a whole plays an important, and unique role in Japanese society. The urge to ‘belt it’, when you can never ‘belt it’ in your own home makes people want to leave. Get out.

Escape…

Nothing helps snuff out any feelings of claustrophobia more than shoving yourself inside a karaoke box, and screaming at the top of your lungs, right? Maybe Street Fighter II Turbo?

It must have been revenge for a minute or two of sweet, sweet jamming!

How Japan’s taste in games leads to the popularity of arcades in Japan

Japan has a long-standing history of valuing precision over immersion. If I were to sum-up the core principles and values of the Western gaming industry, I think it is safe to say that most Western gamers value a game that provides immersion over punishing difficulty. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but there is a Stark contrast to the kinds of games people in Japan gravitate to and the most popular game series in Japan such as Monster Hunter, or Japan’s endless sea of rhythm games.

If I were to pick on type of game that encompasses the tastes of the typical Japanese gamer, I would probably point to Japan’s gargantuan rhythm game industry. So why are rhythm games so popular in Japan? It’s a bit of a ‘chicken vs. the egg’ situation, where arcades continue to be popular in Japan, and rhythm games are popular because arcades are popular. So, why? There may be a cultural basis for why precision-focused games are more popular In Japan than in the west. In Japan, there is the concept of ‘a craftsman spirit’, or ‘shokunin kishitsu’ (職人気質). Seen in all aspects of Japanese life, there is an emphasis placed on this kind of ‘craftsman spirit’, where one repeats a strict practice regiment day-to-day to continuously work towards the perfection of one specific craft. This can be seen in Japan’s sushi chefs and various artisans, where a daily routine of hard-work and discipline is seen as a value in-and-of-itself, independent of any desired outcome. This is one of the ways Japan’s values and perspective differs from most Western countries. In Japan, a hard work ethic and continuous effort in the face of diversity is the most important value that people strive for on a daily basis. I believe that rhythm games appeal to this kind of ‘craftsman spirit’ that is such an integral component to Japanese culture.

Of course, Mario is popular on the whole of planet Earth.

What are Japanese arcades like?

Japanese arcades are typically very different than the ‘bar-cades’ you can find in the West. Western arcades hit a breaking-point around the early 2000’s where home consoles began to overcome the hardware specs of the average arcade cabinet. To adapt to this, Western arcades began creating more of a community-driven experience. The Japanese arcade experience is still very single-player-driven, by comparison. You will see entire floors of single player rhythm games, single player Gundam pods, and fighting game cabinets like Tekken and Street Fighter. Notable in Japan’s proclivity for lining streets with countless pachinko parlors, from kid-friendly crane games to adult-catered UFO droppers, slot machines, and whole areas devoted to keiba (digital horse races), the layout of the arcades in Japan are indicative of the Japanese culture surrounding them.

Let’s take a look at some pictures

I walked through my neighborhood Sega arcade and took some pictures. While this is far from the biggest arcade I have been to in Japan, I thought it was a pretty good representation of the average neighborhood arcade you can find in Japan.

Japanese kids play arcade games next to 50 year old men!

Oof…could have chosen my words more carefully… In Japan, children are generally given a lot of more freedom in public than what I ever saw in the US. One reason for this is the incredibly low crime rate in Japan in-general, while there is also much less emphasis placed in Japanese society on shielding young minds from adult concepts. Of course, children aren’t allowed to gamble, but it’s not uncommon to see a little kid playing the newest Yokai watch or Yugioh machine, with a 50 year old man smoking cigarettes and running slots 3 feet away from them. This dynamic can be seen in a lot of different aspects of Japanese society. I would often see kids that couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 riding the train by themselves. On the other hand, parents often sleep in the same bed with their kids at this age. The social standard on what is acceptable for children what, and where, leads to a ton of ‘Japan only’ exclusive games, cabinets, etc, which is one of the reasons why it might be interesting to visit an arcade in Japan, even if you’re not really into gaming. Of course, the fact that people of all ages have something catered towards their age bracket is probably another factor why arcades are still so popular in Japan.

Are you interested in learning more about the gaming scene in Japan?

I want to recommend “Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan’s Game Centers” by Brian Ashcraft. He goes into the background of the kinds of games you will find in Japanese games centers, how they were made, their history, and is full of interviews with game creators, etc! It’s a fun read, and can prep you for any arcade-hopping you plan on doing in Japan!

*I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a small percentage of sales on the above link. However, I will ONLY recommend products that I have used, genuinely enjoyed, and found useful / fun.

In conclusion

Japan’s small living quarters have created a higher demand for spaces that allow people to let loose in public. This is the reason why not only Japanese arcade are popular, but also other Japanese night life staples like Karaoke. Also, Japanese arcades have some pretty unique and cool games that you couldn’t play at home.

If you’re interested in reading more about what people in Japan do for fun, here’s another article below where I go over the Japanese concept of ‘nijikai’, and explain the timing of hanging out in Japan. Check it out!

Why Does Japan Use So Much Packaging? My Experience With Japan’s Food Sharing Culture

There are many factors for why Japan uses so much packaging. A cultural tendency to want to easily share snacks one of these reasons, along with Japan’s views on hygiene and common eating practices. Throughout this article I will go over my own experiences living in Japan, and some things I have I noticed.

The moment I realized just how much packaging Japan uses

One common thing you’ll see at a Japanese supermarket snack isle is snacks, within wrappers, within wrappers, within packaging…within bigger packaging…you get the idea. This was one of the small culture shocks I had when I first moved to Japan. I remember one of the first days I got here I bought some groceries, and decided to try a box of cookies. I remember getting home and being pretty frustrated, because every single individual cookie (these were not American sized cookies) was wrapped in it’s own plastic wrapper. As I enjoyed one tiny cookie…2 quarter-sized cookies…3! THREE WHOLE COOKIES…I realized that I had eaten what would have been the equivalent of 1/3 the size of the cookies you can buy in the US, and that I now had a small mountain of plastic wrappers beginning to form at a frightening rate.

Why…oh why would they do this? Isn’t Japan a relatively eco-friendly nation? Plus, Japanese people are so waste-conscious! What’s with this?

In Japan, I have to sort my trash into 10 different categories just to take it out, but the wrapping form this cookie box is creating a short layer of cushion that is currently padding out my 15 x 15 1LDK apartment. How can this be. How…is this logical? WHY JAPANESE PEOPLE!? Why!? Well…so why does this happen?

Why does Japan use so much packaging?

Wondering this myself after my little cookie incident, I’ve asked some Japanese friends over the years their thoughts on this. It’s a bit difficult to answer questions like this, when this is the country you have spent your whole life living in. It is difficult for people to realize how extreme the packaging in Japan can get, if they have only ever lived in Japan. That being said, this is the answer I have gotten the most often.

Japanese companies use more packaging with snacks, because Japanese people like to hand out snacks to their friends, family, and colleagues. This is also a part of the Japanese sense of hygiene, as people are generally adverse to touching their foods. One example of this sense of hygiene is how Japanese people will always hold sandwiches and hamburger with an external wrapper.

In fact, most Japanese restaurants that serve burgers or other finger foods will provide this wrapper. What about fries? Some people eat fries with chopsticks, and some people use their fingers. It depends on personal preference (and often the level of grease.)

How Japanese people share food, and it’s effect on packaging. One of my experiences with food packaging in Japan

It’s the little things that stick out to you when you come to Japan. I remember it was somewhat of an eye-opening experience for me, how something so small can explain so much with so few actions. And…this is funny, but sharing a bag of chips with some Japanese friends was a real ‘aha’ moment for me.

Why?

Because it explained so much about the way Japanese people view food culture, how they view cleanliness, and how they view food packaging, all in one small action.

So…what was it? It’s a pretty big deal…

As a symptom of Japan’s collectivist mindset, bags are often opened completely down the middle, while making effort to spread out bag’s contents over a wider area so people’s hands don’t touch. I prepared some pictures so that you can better visualize what I mean by this.

A perfectly good bag of chips…
In Japan people will open bags down the center like this…
and then shake it a bit to spread out the contents. Now you have a communal plate where you can share the chips without running the risk of bumping into someone else’s filthy hands. Hooray! No human contact guaranteed!

So, i’ts not like people don’t pour out chips to share them in Western countries, but I have seen this done in these exact 3 steps so many times here. Every single time I’ve seen a Japanese person eat something that came in a bag (snacks, chips, cookies, etc.), people have done this as a formality, almost as if to communicate indirectly with those around them ‘feel free to help yourself!’

So if people share chips like this in Japan, why do they individually wrap other kinds of snacks?

I think the simple answer is that chips are seen more of a food to be indulged in, while cookies and other small desserts are typically eaten in much smaller portions. I think we even has this small unspoken rule in the West as well. It would be weird if somebody opened up a bag of chips, eat one single chip from the bag, and put the rest away for later right? Like…you just wanted to eat one chip? On the other hand, it would be more normal to eat a single cookie, and put the rest away for later right? Why is that?…I honestly can’t really answer, but the point is that the emphasis placed on individual packaging in Japan serves the purpose of making it easier to share foods that are more often eaten in smaller portions. Rather than shoving 20 oreos into a tray like they would in the US, they instead may individually package one cookie at a time. This is partly influenced by Japans constant need to assing a ‘proper’ way of doing basic tasks such as eating, and also Japan’s health-conscious society that places much more importance on balance within portions compared to most places in the world.

And especially to the US! Oh boy

So yeah…there definitely wouldn’t be an individually wrapped…cheeto or something like that in Japan. HA! Nope…would never happen.

WAIT!

These are called umaibo. They’re basically single-wrapped corn puffs that come in some pretty interesting flavors. My favorite is the corn soup! For some reason, Japan really likes corn soup flavored things?

I think the reason why umaibo are individually wrapped is because they are more about the experience of trying different flavors with your friends. So you might buy 10 and share them all together for just around $1 USD, for example.

A look at Japan’s marketing campaigns; The concept of 派 and how Japan’s marketing campaigns lead to excessive packaging

There is another reason why Japan’s food industry incorporates (and other industries, for that matter), use so much packaging; There is a culture of companies constructing exclusivity within their own brands. By creating two rival versions of the same product, companies hope that people will talk within their friend circle about which ‘team’ they belong to. A classic example of this would be with the original Pokémon red and blue release.

Blue’s better. Just saying…

In order to catch every Pokémon in the game, you had to own both copies of the game, or trade with somebody who owned the version of the game you didn’t. Japanese companies love creating this discussion around ‘teams’ (Ha, or 派) in Japanese. I think the most prevalent example in the food industry would be Meiji’s rival chocolate mountain-plant-based-snacks, kinoko no yama (lit. mountain mushroom) and takenoko no ri (lit. bamboo village). You can see them both below. Put simply, having so many versions of the same product means that the exterior designs must be updated in tandem, resulting in tons of exclusive paired-products and often complete redesigns of store shelves.

Me personally, I’m definitely a mushroom man myself, and anyone who isn’t doesn’t even deserve the breath it will take to spout their stupid opinion. They’re wrong. UGH. I’ll think I’ll go start a twitter poll.

And that’s how it goes…

Japan and America’s food culture and the concept of hospitality. Also, how this is connected to the expectations of packaging.

The things people often fixate on in Japan can be pretty unique… Click the image to read about Japan’s obsession with being clean shaven, and that cultural rabbit-hole!

Actually, it’s more like people take this act so that they don’t have to say ‘please help yourself’. I say this because there is a famous Japanese socio-linguist, Doi Takeo, who devoted the first chapter of his book The Anatomy of Dependence to one of the biggest cultural differences he noticed between, in particular, America and Japan. These kinds of indirect means of communication are an integral part of Japan’s ideal image of hospitality, where a guests needs are met without needing to directly communicate their wishes to host. This is very different to the American ideology, where emphasis is placed on creating a setting where the guest can feel ‘at home’ to speak. In Japan, the idea of feeling ‘at home’ in someone else’s domain is reserved strictly for the closest relationships.

A packaging of hospitality; host hospitality and food culture in Japan and America

There is a display of intentionality that can be seen as common ground between the relationship of both the typical American and Japanese host-guest hospitality, although there is an emphasis placed on demonstrating an ability to ‘read the air’ much more in this situation in Japan. A common trope seen in this setting in Japan (although this is becoming more rare) is that a Japanese person will receive an offer for food or drink 3 times before accepting. It is their job to show their proclivity to enryo (遠慮) by exercising restraint, and it is the host’s responsibility to show their strong desire to provide a hospitable environment by offering multiple times. This is a topic I would like to write further on in the future. For now, I can say that the increased importance placed on this dynamic in Japan is one of the primary factors that affects how people share food in Japan. This dynamic has a direct impact on the way packaging (and food portions in general) are designed for the domestic Japanese market.

In conclusion

Japanese companies use so much packaging to satisfy the cultural expectation that aligns with Japan’s collectivist tendencies. People want to share food, but share food in a way that is seen as more removed and hygienic than what is typically normal in the west. On top of that, Japan’s history of marketing campaigns that encourage the design of multiple competing version of the same product make Japan a country that tends to use a much higher amount of packaging than other countries.

If you want to try Japanese snacks

If you want to try to Japanese snacks, and want to support this site, please consider purchasing a Japanese snack bundle through the Amazon link I have placed below. I receive a small percentage of the sale in commissions, and you get to eat delicious Japanese snacks wrapped in layers of plastic! I also made sure to find a bundle with a fair price and good snack choices (There are a lot of ‘wacky Japanese foods’ that nobody here ever eats. Not in this bundle! I made sure to check!) This package also contains the individually wrapped umaibo cheeto-like corn puffs I talked about in the article earlier! Check it out.

Click here to check out the Japanese snack bundle on Amazon.

For more information on Japan’s unique food culture, and how Japanese culture affects small things like this in everyday life, why not check out the article I wrote below about Japan’s coffee culture, and the reason why people drink coffee so often in Japan? It’s a great read! Unbiased opinion! I have learned humility since moving to Japan, I swear!!!