Is Tokyo a City / State / or Prefecture? Let’s Take a Look!

Did you know that Tokyo technically isn`t a city? Technically, Tokyo is a prefecture, made up of 23 smaller mini city pocket special wards. However, Tokyo prefecture is only a small fraction of The Greater Tokyo Area…so how big is Tokyo, and how do we even begin to define it as an area?

It’s…pretty complicated. Let’s first go over the facts.

How is the area of Tokyo defined officially? Is Tokyo a city, a prefecture, a state, or an area? The confusion continues…

Tokyo is technically one of the 47 prefectures that make up the country. However, unlike most other prefectures, the Tokyo prefecture does not contain a capital. Whereas the capital of Osaka prefecture is Osaka city, the Tokyo prefecture is instead comprised of 23 special smaller ‘wards’, which are essentially smaller government jurisdiction pockets that make up the prefecture of Tokyo.

So Tokyo isn’t a city? A bit of history

Not currently. However, there did originally exist a Tokyo city (which was historically renamed to Tokyo from Edo when it became the capital of Japan in 1868 ), however, Tokyo city was abolished in 1943 and would merge with Tokyo Prefecture to form the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. This would allow the areas in and around Tokyo city to be governed from the then central government, with the governor of Tokyo reporting directly to prime minister, who would then report to the emperor and so-on. This direct control would continue until 1947 when the current structure of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was introduced. In the process of decentralizing power from the central government, the areas that comprised Tokyo city would be split up into 23 independent wards which make up the areas of the Tokyo prefecture. This is the current system that is still in place today. So, currently, Tokyo is not a city. Tokyo is a prefecture.

A quick summary; What all of these definitions means

So, to summarize, Tokyo isn’t a city, but is instead a prefecture made of 23 mini-city areas known as special wards. You can think of a prefecture as being similar to what a state would be in the United States. That being said, Tokyo is conceptually thought of as a city in Japan. While technically defined as a prefecture, the lifestyle of the average Japanese person make it very difficult to define where the boundaries of Tokyo begin and end. Put simply, it’s very difficult to define what exactly Tokyo means.

Oh, but believe me…people sure have tried! They really. REALLY tried *cries and crumbles under the pressure of research materials gathered to write this article.

Based on my research, there are dozens of different ways the various municipalities around Tokyo choose to define the city.

Have you ever played any of the Civilization games, where you can view filters on different areas of your land that allow you to see different trade routes, religious spread, population, etc? It`s kind of like that.

The different ways the boundaries of Tokyo have been defined. Tokyo isn’t a city, but is it a prefecture or greater area?

There are dozens of different definitions of what Tokyo even means, and which area’s are considered Tokyo in an official capacity, and which areas are colloquially referred to as a part of Tokyo, but are actually a part of a separate prefecture. One example of how politicians have defined the area of Tokyo as a concept is the idea of `One Metropolis, Three Prefectures` (一都三県, Itto Sanken), which states that the `area of Tokyo` consists of the Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba prefectures. However, this leaves out many of the smaller neighborhoods that many people would commonly refer to as Tokyo.

As with most of my articles, please allow me to provide you with added context. Wow, what a hero I am!

So, why is it so difficult to define the area of Tokyo?

Japan is a ‘commuting nation’. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, about 86 percent of Japanese companies pay their employees’ tsukin teate, or “commuting allowance.” Japan’s dense population and excellent public transportations system, along with the fact that most companies pay 100% of their employees transportation to work means that it is extremely common for people to commute from Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture’s on a daily basis. In fact, when looking at the data, 34.8% of the working population of surrounding prefecture Saitama (埼玉) commutes to Tokyo daily. 32.1% of the working population of Chiba (千葉) commutes to Tokyo daily, and so on. (source: Statistics Bureau of Japan)

So an extremely high number of workers commute into Tokyo daily, but there’s another factor to consider

Japan’s group-mentality means that more often than not, people will choose to meet up in the most centralized location. Due to the geography of the area, somebody who lives in Saitama (north-west of Tokyo), and somebody who lives in Chiba (far-west of Tokyo) can meet in the middle at some of Tokyo’s most centralized stations. Tokyo’s central location makes it a hub of-sorts for all surrounding prefectures.

With the choice between Saitama, Chiba, and Tokyo, most people will always choose to go out in Tokyo.

This is a fact.

Nightlife in Japanese cities center around the last train

In Japan, people’s social life tend to revolve around easily-accessible train stations. “Let’s meet in Shinjuku”, usually means ‘Let’s meet at JR Shinjuku station’. It’s really just an unspoken pattern of life, which leads to more people meeting at these centralized train stations across Tokyo. This makes the timing of the last train extremely relevant in urban Japan. People talk about it constantly. ‘Shuden wa?’ (When is the last train?), ‘Shuden daijyoubu?’ (You aren’t going to catch the last train?) are two sentences you will hear if you stay out late in virtually any city in Japan. The ‘last train’ is the…last train of the night! Pretty self-explanatory, right? Every morning around from 6am-9am people pour into Tokyo from surrounding prefectures, and will often stay until shuden (the last train), which usually leaves somewhere around 12:30 am.

Do people say that they live in…Tokyo?

So…say you hypothetically commute in from neighboring Saitama, but you work in downtown Tokyo, often meeting up with friends and running errands until late at night, and sometimes until the last train. You only go home to sleep, do laundry, etc. Would you tell people that you live in Saitama? I think what often happens is people say they live in Tokyo, but that their home is in Saitama. Generally speaking, the closer one is to a major Tokyo station, the more likely they are to say that they live in Tokyo, even if their home is technically outside of the prefectural limits.

The Kanto Major Metropolitan Area; A definition of Tokyo based on commuter data

So Tokyo technically isn’t a city, and is instead a prefecture separated into 23 wards. We not know that this definition may not be practical enough in a modern sense, however. Throughout my experience combing through the many different definitions of the area that makes up Tokyo, one definition for the area of Tokyo that seems like a proper balance between the concept of Tokyo as a city, and Tokyo as a prefecture / Greater Area is the concept of the Kantō Major Metropolitan Area (関東大都市圏, Kantō Dai-toshi-ken).

The Kanto Major Metropolitan Area; The How most people who say they `live in Tokyo` would define the central Tokyo area.

This definition is especially practical because the areas designated are based on the commuting data from the surrounding region. Essentially, areas that have a high percentage of commuters riding to Tokyo on a regular basis are designated as a part of Kantō Major Metropolitan Area. To qualify to be a part of this region and be considered as a part of this more general Tokyo area areas must have 1.5% of their population aged 15 and above commuting to a designated city (Yokohama, Kawasaki, Sagamihara, Chiba, and Saitama) or the 23 special wards of Tokyo.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Kantō through Pokémon? It is based on this region.

I think this is my favorite definition of the Tokyo area, because it acknowledges the practical reality of the region. That being aid, there is a designation for the Tokyo area that is used more often. That is the designation of the Greater Tokyo Area.

What about the Greater Tokyo Area?

The Greater Tokyo Area is referred to by various terms in Japanese, with the most common of them being the shutoken (首都圏). The Greater Tokyo Area contains the entirety of the prefectures surrounding Tokyo’s 23 special wards including the neighboring prefectures; Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma) as well as the prefecture of Yamanashi. This designation includes a lot more rural areas, including areas that are practically quite distant from Tokyo. This is why I personally prefer the Kanto Major Metropolitan Area, because somebody living in West Yamanashi is over 2 hours away by train from central Tokyo…which seems just a little bit too removed in my opinion to be considered a part of the Greater Tokyo area. This has become somewhat of an inside joke with Japanese people as well, because Yamanashi and central Tokyo are about as polar opposite locations imaginable. So…is Yamanashi is a…part of Tokyo?

Yamanashi…Yamanashi a part of Tokyo? A look into the scope of the Greater Tokyo Area

About Yamanashi

Even if you`ve never heard of Yamanashi, you`ve probably seen pictures that were taken in the area. Yamanashi is famous for being right next to Mount Fuji, and is very photogenic. However, most people who visit Mount Fuji typically go through the Shizuoka prefecture, because it follows the coast and is a much shorter trip from Tokyo. This is because Yamanashi is located right in the center of a mountainous canyon range. Despite only being a 90 minute train ride from Shinjuku, Tokyo, which is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, Yamanashi has a population of less than a million (817,192 as of 2019), and is one of the more isolated prefectures in Japan.

Because of these difficulties in reaching Yamanashi from Tokyo, I was curious what the Japanese perception on Yamanashi being included in Greater Tokyo Area was. So…I went down a bit of a google-search rabbit hole. From reading some local`s experiences moving to Yamanashi from other areas of Japan, I came across some common insights. Generally, the underlying theme I saw in all of these blog posts, forums, and YouTube videos was that Yamanashi is a beautiful place that exudes some kind of air of `exclusivity` through most facets of life there. The people, most of them having lived there their entire lives, have a very unique Japanese dialect, unique traditions, and a strong sense of community that is difficult to penetrate. Being very out-of-the-way, much of the economy is insular, and the former downtown areas of the capital city, Kofu, have been reduced year by year to an ever-barren sea of empty storefronts and chain restaurants. It’s a strange dichotomy of being so close to the largest metropolitan area in the world, yet being in the center of an isolated basic next to one of the world’s most famous icons, Mt. Fuji.

Do Japanese people think Yamanashi is part of the Tokyo identity? Is Yamanashi really a part of the Greater Tokyo Area?

In the hopes of obtaining righteous knowledge, I decided to throw a post up on Hello Talk (A language exchange app I can recommend using to supplement your Japanese studies). I asked Japanese natives what they thought about Yamanashi being included in the definition of Greater Tokyo Area.

Behold, my incredible scientific means of gathering data. I truly am a model analyst! I may as well be!

The first responder said “It depends on the specific context, but I think that the Greater Tokyo Area should include Tokyo’s 23 wards, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama.” The second responder said “I didn’t know! I had no idea Yamanashi was a part of the Greater Tokyo Area.” The third responder liked the post. The fourth responder said “There are a lot of people who commute to Tokyo to work from Yamanashi, so I think including Yamanashi in this definition is good.” In response to the fourth person, I would acknowledge that many people who live close to the center of Kofu, which is the capital of Yamanashi, do in fact commute to Tokyo. That being said, according to the study I had referenced early, less than 5% of Yamanashi workers to commuting outside of Yamanashi for Tokyo on a regular basis. When compared to the 34.8% of Saitama residents, and considering Yamanashi’s much smaller population, this is still a relatively low number.

In my opinion, Yamanashi continues to be considered a part of the Greater Tokyo Area in an effort to encourage Tokyo residents to move to Yamanashi, which is a good example of a rural area that is facing a crises in population decline, while the neighboring Tokyo prefecture still continues to increase in population year by year. Yamanashi’s nearby Mt. Fuji as an incredibly iconic image of Japan may be another possible reason why Yamanashi continues to be included in this definition.

Honestly though, I still don’t buy it. I would love to visit Yamanashi. In fact, it’s one of the areas I am the most interested in, as it would be the perfect escape from the amazing concrete jungle that is Tokyo. I just… I just can’t consider it a part of Tokyo though. That’s my opinion. The mountainous characteristics of the region make Yamanashi simply too difficult to reach from Tokyo to consider it a part of a cohesive area with everything else.

The reason I became interested in this question

 Before moving to Tokyo, I lived in the Kansai region of Japan for over 5 years. I spent the majority of those 4 years as a university student (you can read about my experience in Japanese university here), and my last year of university looking for work. In Japan, it is the expectation that university students spend their entire 4th year going through Japan`s new graduate job hunting funnel.

It`s not a fun funnel. It`s more like a funnel of rejection and all-consuming depression.

This job-hunting void typically ends up in Tokyo, because most students are expected to travel to Tokyo for the final round of job interviews for probably around 80% of the companies in Japan. As a final year university student in Japan, your eyes really become focused on Tokyo. Having had lived in Japan for around 5 years at this point, but having spent collectively around a week in Tokyo, I started doing a little bit more research on the best place to stay, which area had cheap hotels and Air BNB’s, where to go for a little bit of fun after my apocalyptic final interview was finished, etc. etc. Basically, this time I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.

And I found out that the logic of how Tokyo is laid out is pretty…different

What I thought was Tokyo was always Tokyo, but a lot of the time what I assumed isn’t Tokyo was ‘kind of’ Tokyo, and that’s when I realized that this whole system must be pretty crazy. Looks like I was right.

If you’re thinking of visiting Tokyo in the near future and are wondering how to spend your night, I laid out my ideal plan for you in the article below. It gives you recommendations on initial transportation, sight-seeing spots, where to eat your first dinner, where to go for drinks / fun afterwards, and what to do on the way back. I think you’ll enjoy the trip, even if just vicariously through my writing, so please feel free to check out the article below.

How Long Does it Take To Learn Japanese? My Experience

Me and two university friends, taken in Kyoto, 2017

A large chunk of my experience first studying Japanese was while I was living in Japan, so my situation may be different than yours. That being said, I would say that I would consider myself to be comfortably fluent after 2 or 3 years of rigorous Japanese study. That standard, however, keeps getting higher.

How long it took me to learn Japanese

Me with my Japanese language school class, 2015

If you’re wondering how long it takes to learn Japanese, I’m assuming what you actually mean in “How long before I can say anything I want in Japanese”, and it’s also likely that you came face to face with how difficult studying the language is, and wanted to know if this was something that is even possible. Well, I can say that based on my own experiences, it absolutely is possible for a native English speaker to become fluent. As for how long it takes to Learn Japanese…I think around 3 years of intense study (I’m talking over 3 hours a day of language exposure) is a safe estimate to become reasonably comfortable.

Don’t believe me? Well, I know this from my own personal experience. I started studying Japanese at 18 years old in late 2013. By early 2016 I had graduated from my Japanese language school and was scraping by in university courses… at a Japanese University. I went from knowing absolutely nothing, to taking (nearly failing) university level courses in Japanese in under 3 years.

If you work really hard and come to Japan, you TOO can have a Tokyo restaurant owner draw an anime portrait of you while you’re eating! Ganbarou–

That being said, I studied Japanese HARD for especially my first year in Japan. This is why when asking how long it takes to learn Japanese, there is a MASSIVE margin for variability. Your surroundings, and more importantly, the level of effort you put in is the biggest factor that will determine the answer to how long it takes to learn Japanese. Perhaps a better question would be; How many hours does it take to learn Japanese? …To be honest, it’s a bit difficult for me to personally answer that question, because the line of what constitutes ‘studying’ and what constitutes living your everyday life in Japan can get a bit blurred.

If you are just getting started; How I recommend getting started learning Japanese

Which textbook to use?

If you’re even considering studying Japanese you should first pick up the Japanese textbook that I used; Genki 1. There are a lot of reasons why I recommend this textbook. It introduces new grammar, vocabulary, and even new alphabets (yep, new alphabets). There are 3 alphabet’s in Japanese, and the book does a great job of slowly throwing them into example texts often enough to challenge new learners, but not be discouraging. The book is also very ‘memeable‘ and hilariously Japanese in it’s examples. (I remember there was one sentence about why boys shouldn’t cry when they’re sad. CULTURE!!! )

The front of the Genk 1 textbook has easy-to-reference charts that teach you both the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets. There is also a really helpful section for learning Kanji at the back of the book.

It’s a well known fact, known by all of my viewers, avid readers, and friends and family. I…am in love with a textbook. Genki 1 is love, Genki 1 is life! Really though, using Genki 1 should save you a lot of time when you first start studying Japanese, because it introduces what is important, but doesn’t shove (too much) useless information down your throat. It’s a great option.

You will learn a LOT from genki 1…

I put a link to Genki 1’s US Amazon page below.

Link to Genki 1 Amazon page

Do I need to take Japanese classes?

From early 2015 to 2016 I entered a Japanese language school, which was a fantastic environment to immerse myself in to learn Japanese. That being said, while the courses were quite intensive, what studying at the language school did for me more than anything else, is to give me a real-world view at the urgency required to learn a language. Learning a language is a bit like a survival game. As you pick up more and more tools, expand your vocabulary, learn new grammar, and become more comfortable speaking and writing, your chances of encountering any situations you can’t handle decreases. Studying at a language school and living everyday life in Japan gave me a view into the experience of what it is like to NOT be able to communicate effectively in another language. This is what drove me to learn Japanese faster. It takes less time to learn Japanese, and is easier to stay motivated when you feel like there is a practical application for using the language. If you want to read more about my experience studying in a Japanese language school, I wrote a separate article about that which I have linked below.

How long will it take me to learn Japanese by myself

In my experience, I don’t think a classroom setting is an optimal way to learn a language. As I had written above, it may take less time to learn Japanese in a classroom setting, because using the language in front of of your peers and being placed in a high-pressure environment raises the sense of urgency attached to learning the material. Basically, a classroom’s greatest benefit is as a motivation tool.

If you can dig deep, and find a way to motivate yourself to making Japanese study a part of your daily lifestyle, to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore, I don’t think it would take you much longer to learn Japanese on your own. In fact, I have developed my own study system over the years for self-teaching Japanese, as well as techniques I have used to teach myself how to write Japanese kanji characters. I think reading through both of these articles will help you learn Japanese faster, and save you time on things that might otherwise trip you up. I know from experience, because these techniques are all based on mistakes I made! I have linked both articles below, so feel free to check them out if you are trying to cut down on the amount of time it takes to learn Japanese.

Why Don’t Japanese Men Have Beards? All About ‘Seiketsukan’ Culture

Exaggeration you say?… hmm debatable.

Japanese men usually don’t have beards because they don’t match Japan’s obsession with the concept of seiketsukan, which can roughly be translated as a ‘sharp-dressed’ look into English. This concept of seiketsukan is a very important factor of Japanese society. Let’s take a deeper look.

The simple answer to why men in Japan don’t have beards

Men in Japan don’t have beards because facial hair is thought to be somewhat unsanitary or ‘not proper’. Having a beard in Japan can give people a bad first impression of you because you will appear to lack the proper drive to properly groom yourself by the standards of Japanese society.

This standard is…pretty complicated. Throughout this article I would like to explain some key concepts to understanding this stigma against facial hair such as seiketsukan (清潔感), and also the Japanese concepts of enryo (restraint), shikkari suru (to act in a ‘proper’ manner), and recount some of my experiences dealing with these concepts in Japan’s new graduate hiring system.

The history of beards in Japan, and why samurai had beards but modern Japanese men don’t

It’s true, and somewhat ironic. Historically speaking the samurai of Japan’s Edo period had facial hair. It was seen as a sense of power and masculinity, and many samurai who were unable to grow beards would use fake beards.

Very, very ironic!

In fact, one of the most prominent figures of Japanese history , Hideyoshi Toyotomi, famous for unifying Japan in the 16th century, famously used a fake beard.

He used a fake beard as a metaphorical beard to hide the fact that he couldn’t grow a beard. Now THAT’S some irony, and pretty hilarious.

You’re not fooling anyone, Hideyoshi…

As the Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period maintained more stable control, the government would become a “civilian government”, known as bunchi-seiji (文治政治), where public morals would become a higher priority. As samurai were the ruling class, lower classes were expected to distance themselves in appearance by shaving off all facial hair. From the middle of the 17th century, the central government would issue a ban on all facial hair for samurai as well, with the goal of upholding a more consistent public moral value, as well as maintaining more control over the samurai ruling class. Many ronin (A samurai without a ruling lord) had begun to resort to bandit behavior and piracy, and the central shogunate attempted to instill a new moral standard to hurt the image of the traditional ‘rebel’ samurai by banning facial hair.

All the girls like those bad rebel samurai. Oh, with their rebellious face-rags. OOH! So improper!

This moral value really took, apparently, because people still feel the same way regarding facial hair in Japan several centuries later.

To further understand why this a ‘moral value’ in Japan, let’s look at the Japanese concept of seiketsukan.

What ‘seiketsukan’ means, and why Japanese men don’t have beards.

Seiketsukan is one of those words that justifies itself in Japanese. Japanese men don’t have beards because of the importance of the concept of seiketsukan. Seiketsukan is important because…seiketsukan is important! It’s classic circular logic. Japanese men don’t have beards, because not having a beard satisfies this desire to conform to seiketsukan culture…and a really big part of this idea of seiketsukan is that men don’t have beards! Get it?

Stop thinking! Stop it!

Okay, okay… so what does seiketsukan really mean? And how does it relate to beard culture in Japan?

As I had written above, ‘seiketsukan’ is probably best translated into English as something like the feeling someone projects from being sharp-dressed. However, this doesn’t fully capture the exact nuance of seiketsukan, and why Japanese men choosing to not grow beards is a good example for how this word is used. I have talked before about the importance of demonstrating intention in Japanese society. In the very first article I ever wrote for this site, I talked about the importance of not only exercising restraint (Enryo (遠慮) in Japanese),

Demonstrating one’s intention to perservere and restrain themselves from the ‘easy path’ is a key component of Japanese society.

but also the importance of demonstrating your intention to exercise restraint. In Japan, the most important factors which people are judged by in society are their ability to persevere and show effort, understand their surroundings, and demonstrate proper intentions. It isn’t enough to be polite. It is essential to demonstrate your intention to be polite as well.At least, in my experience this has certainly been the case. One reason why Japanese men don’t have beards in Japan, is because it demonstrates an intention to show great effort in maintaining their sense of seiketsukan for those around them. This may sound very academic, but I truly believe this social dynamic is engrained not only into the language and the way people speak, but also in the overall subconscious of the population. In the west, many people would describe this as conformity, but I don’t think people in Japan see it this way. It is more about demonstrating one’s willingness to meet a societal standard, than feeling the need to stifle one’s own individuality.

Japanese men don’t have beards because they are trying to show their willingness to strive towards the standard of seiketsukan

In short, Japanese men don’t have beards, because choosing to shave one’s beard well is demonstrating their intention to to strive for a higher sense of seiketsukan, which can be somewhat crudely translated as a sense of being sharp dressed, or a ‘feeling of personal hygiene’. In fact, when asked why they don’t like beards in this video by YouTuber That Japanese Man Yuta, many…many Japanese women simply answered “because there’s no feeling of seiketsukan“.

It doesn’t get much easier than that to find material for these articles, folks!

Try listening for the word ‘seiketsukan’

The concept of ‘shikkari shiteiru’, and my experience encountering this ‘seiketsukan’ standard while job hunting in Japan

I encountered this concept of seiketsukan while I was going through the Japanese new-university-graduate job hunting system in Japan as well. This new graduate hiring system (known as shukatsu 就活) in Japanese, takes all of the extreme elements of Japanese culture, and expands them to even more monumental proportions. There is a standard of human that is uniform and well-established, and student in the country is trying to fill the shoes of this imagined impossible ideal. Going through this system as a foreigner is a pretty strange experience, and is something that I can’t recommend approaching from the same angle as other Japanese students. The reason for this being that the entire job hunting system is designed with the Japanese ideal in mind. However, in order to fully understand what I’m getting at, first you need to understand the common Japanese phrase that is shikkari suru (しっかりする).

The concept of shikkari suru, and how it relates to seiketsukan and beard culture in Japan

If you live in Japan and have conversations in Japanese, something you will often hear is the phrase shikkari suru, which can (maybe?) be translated into English as “To do things properly and with the utmost effort”. This means to imply that there is a set standard, seeing as there is perceived existence of a ‘proper’ means of carrying out any action. This idea exists everywhere in Japan, which is a deal-breaker and reason why many expats eventually leave the country, I think. There seems to be a set rule for how to everything. How to walk, how to wait in line, what to wear on any given month of the year, what food to eat when and with who…etc etc, and yes, a rule that states that Japanese men (any especially young men in Japan) should not grow facial hair. The list could go on and on. Like most things in Japan, this ends up being a double-edged sword. The extreme perfectionism that permeates every inch of Japan’s culture results in a country full of incredibly competent, respectful, and humble people. The flip side of this is that people obviously live under a high amount of social pressure from those around them on a day-to-day basis. I don’t think there is any denying that. This is the reality of life in Japan. So how does this relate to the reasons why Japanese men don’t grow beards?

Well, when job hunting in Japan, every single movement, every action is made with the intent of showing your intention to shikkari suru, meaning to attend to each possible matter in a proper manner. This is most apparent in the standard people have on applicant’s appearance. I went through this system as a male, so I’m going to be writing from a man’s perspective, although the standards for women are just as strict (if not more strict.)

I was dying inside, but there’s not a single hair on that face. You can tell from this high quality image.

When going through job hunting, to be clean shaven is a measure of one’s own effort towards their appearance. To have a slim-fitting suit is a measure of one’s own effort to find a proper tailor and live a healthy lifestyle. To have straight black hair is a measure of one’s own effort to groom themselves properly before an interview. To have proper posture throughout an interview is a measure of one’s own willingness to persevere through pain and discomfort (also known as to gaman, another core concept to understanding the way people think in Japan), to memorize the 50 different set-movements one must perform to be able to properly enter a room, introduce themselves, and begin an interview in the first place…is a measure of whether or not someone is shikkari shiteiru or not, and whether or not they carry with them not only the sense of proper seiketsukan, but also an awareness for those around them. So, being clean shaven is just one piece of this puzzle. In Japan, men don’t have beards, because beards give other people the image that they might not be willing to go through the trouble of properly (shikkari suru) grooming themselves.

If Takeshi-sans not willing to properly groom himself, how can I ever trust Takeshi-san with my wife!?

So that’s what I need to succeed in Japan? Just follow all of these steps? Oh, and don’t have a beard in Japan too, right?

So, you have to demonstrate your drive and passion towards the company and those around you, right? And you need to learn how to persevere through hardship…oh and and you need to have a small intellectual frame, straight black hair, and the appearance of an all-around ideal Japanese male stereotype to succeed? Got it!

Hey! That sounds just like me! *phew* That…was a close one… At least I don’t have facial hair, right?

In conclusion; The reason why Japanese men typically don’t have beards or other kinds of facial hair

In japan there are a number of societal standards that are adhered to in order to demonstrate one’s willingness to achieve harmony with those around them. One of these standards is of seiketsukan, which is difficult to fully translate into English, but means something similar to the ‘feeling someone projects from being sharp-dressed’, or a ‘feeling of cleanliness’. When being interviewed, Japanese women overwhelmingly responded that they don’t like men who have beards because these men don’t project a good sense of seiketsukan. Put simply, it’s very difficult to ‘look sharp’ by a Japanese standard with facial hair, which is why most Japanese men choose to not grow a beard. By choosing to take on the attitude of properly maintaining, or shikkari shiteiru towards their own appearance, Japanese men are attempting to show a higher-than-average willingness to fit in harmoniously with their surroundings.

In Japan, effort to restrain one’s immediate desires (enryo 遠慮) for the good of both yourself and the immediate group is an obvious component to day-to-day life, which can result in a tendency to resort to circular logic in terms of social standard. For example, seiketsukan is good, because a person with proper seiketsukan is somebody who properly grooms themselves, whereas somebody who properly grooms themselves is somebody who has a strong seiketsukan. This logic can also be applied to why Japanese men avoid facial hair. It’s circular logic, with the goal of maintaining a certain sense of communal cohesion. This effort to maintain harmonious cohesion within the society has resulted in a higher frequency of occurrences of these kinds of ‘circular’ societal standards, which are often justified in and of themselves.

A proper Japanese man has a good sense of seiketsukan. A proper sense of seiketsukan is not compatible with having a beard.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Kanji? My Experience

In my time living in Japan I have heard many people say that you need to memorize around 2000 Kanji characters to be able to fluently learn Japanese. Based on my experience, I know that it took me personally 3 or 4 years of rigorous study, most of that studying taking place in Japan, to get that level.

While I will delve extensively into my own personal experience studying Japanese in Japan at both a Japanese language school and Japanese university, as well as my estimate to how many hours I have spent studying Japanese, first I would like to offer you some advice on things I have learned over the years through trial and error that have made my habits studying and memorizing kanji much more efficient, and much easier.

Tip for studying kanji #1: Respect the stroke order

Every kanji in Japanese has a set stroke order that native speakers have drilled into their brains from the time they begin primary school. It is important to memorize this stroke order if you hope to gain a certain level of authenticity in your penmanship comparable to a native Japanese speaker.


What is stroke order? How does it help you write kanji? 

The kanji’s ‘stroke order’ is the exact order in which each individual stroke that makes up each overall kanji character is written. You can think of a kanji stroke order like a map that lays out the exact directions in order that it takes to construct each character with a proper visual aesthetic and balance.

Here’s a real-life example

Have you ever assembled Ikea furniture? You know those instruction booklets that shows you visually the exact order for assembly with each individual piece included in the box? This is comparable example to the way stroke order works in kanji. If you suddenly jump from step number 2 to step number 4, you might still be able to assemble the furniture, but things might be a few millimeters off, and you may have to start shoving pieces in where they may not fit properly.

An example of proper kanji stroke order

I better explain the above example visually I have created a visualization of the stroke order for the Japanese character 見, which means to see or visualize.

How appropriate! I’m a genius.

You can drag through the pictures below to see the whole progression of the stroke order for this particular kanji.


Why is it important to memorize a kanji’s stroke order? 


Stroke order actually does affect the design of kanji in a subtle way. Its important to remember that the base shapes from which kanji characters are built were originally drawn with a brush. This is a subtle principle of calligraphy. If you look very closely the ‘flow’ of kanji characters also add a distinct flavor in their design. When you’re using a brush to draw these characters, the drag of the bristles is very apparent in the subtleties that make much up each character’s aesthetic. It’s pretty easy to tell when somebody has written a character in the wrong stroke order, because certain lines will be too thick, or it will be obviously that what is supposed to be one stroke was written as two individual strokes, etc. For example, let’s look at the character below.

The above kanji indicates direction, and i’ll be talking about the direction of individual strokes in kanji design.

Wow, look at me being a genius again!

If you look at the center square, you can see that there are corners jutting out, right? This is because the left-most stroke of the inner circle is one downward stroke. Leaving this little bump hanging out at the bottom demonstrates the flow of the brush.

You can then see the stroke on the top of that inner circle as well as the right side of the circle. This right angle is one motion, which is why there is a larger bump above the top-right side of the inner circle. This bump is left-over from the brush turning this right corner. You can confirm this with the image below.

The ‘brush flick’ is important

You may have noticed this little ‘flick’ on the bottom right of this character. You can also see this on the end of the 見 kanji I used to demonstrate kanji stroke order above, although it’s a bit more subtle than what you say here. This ‘flick’ is meant to mimic the look of a brush lifting off the page, and is one more example of how the design of kanji emphasis the flow of how they are written. When you get fast enough at writing each character, you will start to internalize this ‘flow’ or rhythm’. On some fonts this ending ‘flick’ is omitted, but most written Japanese will include these flourishes to an extent. While this is by no means a priority when learning kanji, if this ending flick is in the wrong spot, you can know that your stroke order is probably wrong. The character will also just look a bit…off

Tip for studying kanji #2: Write as much as you can, and invest in a fine-tip pen or pencil with well-distributed weight

The biggest, absolute biggest piece of advice I can give somebody when learning kanji, and I cannot stress this point enough, is that in order to memorize kanji, you will need to write kanji! Write until your hand is cramped. Go to the store, buy a notebook, and fill it out. Just find characters you want to memorize and write them over, and over, and over…this really is the best way to do it.

To make this process a little bit more personal and fun, I highly investing a bit of money into a pen or mechanical pencil with a nice, balanced weight, and a design that you like. As a language learner, a nice pen or pencil is something you will use more than a dictionary, and more than a textbook. If you’re doing things right, that is.

Doing things…write…ha…haha..ha (I’m sorry, I’ll stop)

My personal recommendation for a pen and pencil to use to study kanji

I have both a pen, and a mechanical pencil that I bought 4 years ago which I am still using today! I purchased these both when I was going through university in Japan. At the time, between taking notes during class and practicing writing Japanese, I would fill actually fill up a 100 page notebook every 3 or 4 weeks. As I became more and more of a perfectionist in terms of improving my penmanship in Japanese (and English) I decided to invest in a nicer pen and pencil. I have linked them below!

The mechanical pencil I use to study kanji

Kaweco Special Mechanical Pencil

The really like this mechanical pencil because of it’s perfect weight distribution and simple design. I’m kind of a minimalist, and don’t really like ostentatious colors, etc. Even more important than the design, this mechanical pencil uses 0.5 mm thin lead, which is a little bit rare in nicer mechanical pencils. I wanted the smallest lead possible for reasons I will explain below.

The pen I use to study kanji

Kaweco Al Sport Fountain Pen Black

I choose this pen for two reasons; Similarly to the mechanical pencil I listed above, I just liked the weight. It’s well distributed, a bit heavily, and helps you write with the natural flow that will help you mimic a brush. Second, I choose a fountain pen because I wanted the thinnest pen tip possible. It’s also a pretty good entry-level fountain pen at $80. You get quality, but I personally could care less about expensive materials or craftsmanship. You get a good weight, great writing experience, and nice minimal design.

Why a thin pen tip is important, and how I choose the above pen and mechanical pencil

Using a pen tip that is too thick will make it very difficult to confirm the accuracy of your own penmanship in Japanese when you start learning more complicated kanji. For example, imagine writing this kanji; 無意識. When you first start practicing, you will want to use the most thin pen tip possible to practice maintaining the perfect balance between strokes.

I choose the above mechanical pencil and pen by going to the nearest high-end pen store in downtown Osaka (in this case, Kaweco, which is a German maker, not Japanese. How could I, right?) , and trying several different models until I found these two. I liked their weight, simple design, and as I stated above, I was looking for a thin pen tip, and a mechanical pencil that used thin lead. There is definitely personal preference in these choices, but they have served me well for around 4 years so-far, and are still going strong. My only complaint is that I have noticed the coating coming off slightly on the mechanical pencil. I suppose it’s natural ware-and-tear. You can see what I mean in the pictures below.

 
Tip for studying kanji #3: Learn techniques to teach yourself Japanese so you can learn in any environment

If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the kinds of conversations you can only have in the Japanese language, I upload videos to my YouTube channel where I have conversations with Japanese people about things people would only know in Japan. You can find my channel in the top menu of the site.

How to study kanji without a textbook

I have used many many textbooks over the years, but I spent the vast majority of my time studying kanji by learning from my surroundings in Japan. That being said, you don’t need to live in Japan to memorize kanji. The key is to place yourself in an immersive environment!

For example, I developed somewhat of a routine to memorize Japanese vocabulary, grammar, and even unique culture points through a study method I designed for learning kanji. This is my method below, which I also touched on a bit in my article below.

This method would become a nightly routine for me

Basically, my method for memorizing Japanese and kanji characters works like this; First, whenever you encounter a new kanji character, the first thing I would do is to decipher what the specific way of reading the kanji in that particular context is. For example: in the above image I included the word enryo (遠慮) which is a bit difficult to translate into English, but means something close to the English word “restraint”. However, the first kanji in enryo, 遠, can be pronounced (depending on the context) as too, on, en , o , oni ,do, and doo. Yeah… and honestly, this is one of the easy ones.

Memorizing every single reading for a kanji individually won’t do you much good. At least, that is definitely not the way I approached learning. I have always taken an approach of learning what I actually came across in Japanese, and then reinforcing what I deem to be more practical into my brain with such intensity as to never forget it.

So, back to the method. Once you decipher the specific way to read the kanji for each word, write it in parenthesis next to the word in hiragana.

Why you should check the reading in hiragana (and not in English)

Often, the way Japanese words are written in Japanese hiragana, and the way they are written in English…just doesn’t quite translate. The correct reading literally gets lost in Translations. A great example of this is actually in Tokyo! But not…Tokyo…in Japanese Tokyo is written (and pronounced) as Toukyou. In English, we rarely incorporate any words that contain this ‘ou’ sound that often exists in Japanese. For this reason, many characters that are difficult to pronounce in English are often omitted.

Still, after nearly 8 years of studying Japanese, the most difficult word for me to pronounce is still ryokyou (旅行), which means travel. Ryoko is a common name in Japan, so there have been a few times where I have said 旅行が好きです, which means “I love to travel”, but the person I was talking to thought I said “I love Ryoko”, and wondered why I was confessing my love for this Ryoko that they had never met. In particular, I have a hard to with the ‘ryo’ sound.

So, now what you’ve recorded the reading in hiragana, I then would write the kanji at least 4 or 5 times. The best way to memorize a language, or a complicated writing system like Japanese kanji, is to write, write, and write some more. I repeat this like a broken record because I don’t believe in short cuts. You have to train your mind to enjoy this process, or you might as well give up on learning Japanese. That’s my honest opinion.

The final step in using this method to memorize kanji

Finally, what I would typically do is to try to punch a sentence using the new word into google. Just try and write anything. You’ll probably get some suggested searches, and by following through with these searches and seeing the exact manner in which Japanese people have used the word, you can get a better idea for the exact nuance of each vocabulary word. The key here is to confirm not just the meaning of the kanji, but to confirm the exact nuance of the kanji, and then confirm the nuance of words that kanji appears in so you can use it in your own sentences. This is a technique designed to make you a self-sufficient Japanese learner.

Why confirming the nuance of words will save you time

Once you get to a certain point in your Japanese-studies, you will eventually reach a point where you will no longer be able to reliably use Japanese-to-English dictionaries. This is because English has a limit to how much it can capture the specific differences between Japanese words. Eventually, you will reach a situation where 3, 4 , or even 5 Japanese words you are studying will all have similar English definitions.

How do you say “thank you” in Japanese? you wonder…you punch it into your dictionary.. “Oh, it much be either どうも、お疲れ様です、いただきます、ありがとう、申し訳ございません、だんだん(I’ve never heard this one),etc etc. What do you do when you encounter this situation, but you don’t understand the exact nuance between words? Here’s what you do; Change the way you’re studying 😉

This is why it is very important to learn Japanese…through Japanese. The only way to discover where the holes in your knowledge exist is to use the language, and learn the context of this distance through your proficiency with other vocabulary. Essentially, you are learning the specific nuances of words, which will give you key insight into how words differ from each other and the amount of distance that exists between similar concepts.

Put simply, you are learning how to identify context through studying the exact way native speakers use each vocabulary word, and by extension, each kanji. This process will give you insight into not only how Japanese people think in Japanese, but to how you can think in Japanese, so that you may teach yourself in Japanese. It sounds esoteric, but it will make sense once you reach a certain point. Trust me.

What is it like to read in Japanese?

Reading Japanese is a game of simultaneously using 3 alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji). There are many reasons both in terms of historical background and practicality for why Japanese uses 3 alphabets, but (put very simply) you can think of the way Japanese is read through these 3 alphabets in terms of the principles below;

Hiragana is the core of Japanese. It is the glue that holds the entirety of a sentence together and qualifies the words around it.

Katakana is primarily used to place emphasis on words, or to create distance between the reader and the novelty of a concept. Perhaps appropriately, foreign concepts and loan words are primarily written in katakana.

Kanji is an imported writing system from China that has diverged massively from their original readings. Every kanji character can be read in many different ways as they are logographic, while hiragana and katakana characters are always pronounced the same way.

This is known as a “sharp” sign, a “pound” sign, or a “hashtag”. This one one character that has several different meaning and pronunciations but has a distinct meaning attached to it’s shape making it “logographic.”

If you are interested in learning more about the different nuances of these 3 alphabet’s, I went deep into this subject in the article linked below where I studied various Japanese marketing campaigns and the specific ways they used different alphabets to achieve a specific nuance. You can click the link below to read more about that.

How I studied Japanese and learned the essential 2000 kanji characters, and how long it took me to learn kanji; My story

I started studying Japanese in 2013 at university in the US. Classes were only a few hours a week, but I took the initiative to self-study quite a lot. I would say I was probably putting in 2 to 3 hours a day of Japanese study (in general, not just studying Kanji). In early 2015 I moved to Osaka, Japan enter a language school. This is where the total number of hours I devoted to studying can get a bit more ambiguous.

This is because I wasn’t just studying Japanese anymore; I was living my life in Japanese.

OH! Oh…when was this picture taken?Um… I studied and worked very hard!At Japanese…and at karate!Nope…that’s not rum you see…nothing to see here….

I would study in a more academic way through my language school courses, and would then supplement (and test) everything I had just learned by venturing out into into the world around me. Studying doesn’t get any easier when you move abroad, which is an idea contrary to what most people assume. Living in another country does give you more opportunities to expose yourself to another language, but setting itself won’t do the work for you. What this setting does grant is newfound and heightened sense of urgency; The sense for how your biggest wins, and your biggest losses, can genuinely influence your life and the world around you.

Put simply, seizing the opportunities of life abroad in Japan (or any other country) will allow you begin to feel a genuine connection between your actions and any direct consequences.

Once you begin to feel your results, they are no longer just theoretical. You can now see with your own eyes, hear with you own ears, and feel with your own emotions need avenues for connection and conversation with those around you. This is when things start to get fun.

One of my favorite things to do after my language school classes was to test out any new crazy saying or phrases I had learned out on some locals. I would go talk to people at a bar or café and try to naturally slip some new thing I had learned into the conversation, and then look at their reaction. Often times, I would find out that nobody actually uses that word, only grandma’s say it like that, or that I had just totally butchered the grammar or pronunciation. Getting this kind of immediate feedback is something I would really recommend. It gets you thinking in smaller steps, which will help you stop worrying about your overall progress in terms of hours or JLPT rankings. If you choose to take the leap and are serious about moving to Japan, or even just learning Japanese, this process of language learning needs to become a part of your overall lifestyle. It needs to become a part of your day so engrained in your subconscious that you approach it in the same way you would brushing your teeth or drinking water. How many hours have I spent learning Japanese? I… really don’t have any idea. I enrolled in university in Japan after I graduated from my Japanese language school, and then went on to move to Tokyo for work in 2020, so I am still continuing to live my life everyday in Japanese. I spend more time just living my day to day life, and less time with a textbook as the years go on. That being said, if I were to pick a number, I would guess it’s somewhere in the range of of 7,000 and 10,000 hours at this point, assuming I have spent 3-4 hours actively learning things a day over a span of 7 hours?

Yeah, honestly it doesn’t work like that. The line between studying and practicing, improving vs. using your language skills just becomes too vague over the years. This perception is something that is difficult to control, and it can be all too tempting to allow it to consume your time and energy. In my experience, the focus should be on consistent and steady progression.

If you are focusing on learning kanji characters, you are much better off memorizing one or two new kanji a day than cramming flash cards into your head once a week.

By focusing on creating a new lifestyle around studying Japanese that fits your specific goals and situations, you will be able to continue progressing at a pace that is sustainable, which is more important than anything else.

In conclusion

I hope you found this guide and recounting of my experiences to be helpful.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive notifications the next time I publish an article (I will never send you any spam, pinkie swear) please consider signing up for my email list below! It’s a great way to help support the site.

Click here to sign up for the email list: https://mailchi.mp/98d95b1d9759/growkaru-landing-page

If you are interested in learning Japanese or studying abroad in Japan

…and would like to know more about my experience enrolling in Japanese language school and university, please check out the articles below!

What’s it Like Dating in Japan? My Experience

In my 2nd YouTube video, we discussed the acceptability of weaboo flooding Japan in search of cute anime girls. You know, typical stuff.
(You can find the link to my YouTube in the top menu bar)

Dating is an interesting topic, because it may be one of the biggest differences I have noticed culturally. There are a few main concepts that are crucial for your ability to understand the timing of things here; tatemae, as well as kokuhaku. I learned these things through trial and error while living in Japan.

The ‘all or nothing’ mentality of dating in Japan

The expectations in terms of timing was really strange for me. Coming from America, I think we tend to take the stance that you go on a date to help you decide whether or not you want to…go on more serious dates. Then somehow or another someone makes a move and you’re dating right? Or, maybe you don’t even say anything?

My point is that we kind of ease into things in the west. At least a bit more.

In Japan, there is the tradition of kokuhaku, which makes the timing for dating very different

However, in Japan there is this concept of kokuhaku, which means things are expected to go from 1 to 100 (or more like 0 to 100) in an instant. This is because the Japanese word kokuhaku means confession, and with this kokuhaku tradition comes the expectation that a guy (typically) confessions his undying love for a female friend. (I’ll get into the wording of this later, because they’re not ‘dating’ yet…it’s confusing) So, this guy will take the girl he likes to some special place and ask her to become his girlfriend (honestly, I have no idea what the LGBT+ standard on any of this is), and then she will say YES or NO. This doesn’t sound that different, right? Maybe a little formal

But wait right there, I still haven’t talked about tatemae

What is tatemae?

Tatemae is one’s public persona (The Japanese characters literally mean to build in front). Tatemae is the equivalent of someone’s phone voice in the west, except it encompasses their whole mode of existence.

In Japan, there is this set concept of honne and tatemae. Honne, on the other hand, are one’s true feelings and what someone is truly thinking, but chooses to keep hidden away from the general public. This concept of transitioning from honne to tatemae is a common theme across all relationships in Japan, as becoming close enough to somebody to speak to them through casual Japanese, or tameguchi, is a clear sign of somebody opening up enough to you to show you their true intentions, and thus show you their honne.

A good example of service tatemae. I created this example for one of my other articles “What’s It Like Studying at a Japanese University? My Experience”, and it sums up so much of my life here that I’m just going to keep using it. Plus, I’m not going to be find too many other meme-like images about Japan that have the words “curly-haired Caucasian male” in them. Just have to keep making them myself…

The thing that’s interesting is there is a bit of romanticism attached to the idea of maintaining one’s tatemae properly. It shows that you have common sense, and a lot of respect for those around you.

When the kokuhaku and tatemae culture mix, things can get a little…weird

I’ll be honest, I usually don’t like to write off things as being ‘weird’ or ‘strange’, since that is a pretty bad attitude to have towards a culture as an expat, but I will say that the Japanese dating values can definitely come off as unnatural, in my opinion. Let me explain.

Since the expectation to maintain tatemae, and the expectation to confess or do kokuhaku exist at the same time, there is a tendency for people on the first date, first of all, to pretend that they aren’t on a date. In fact, people in Japanese use the same word for “play”, and “date”…which has made me feel like I’m 3 years old more than a few times. If you say that it’s a date, most people will find it to be too much, or too direct. This is because you are stating your intentions directly.

There’s no mystery or fun in somebody saying that they like you immediately, right? In Japan, there is the idea that there is no mystery if both people know that they’re both on a date…even though people call it a date…just…don’t call it a date…on the date? But everyone knows it’s a date…but don’t say it! I think it’s safe to assume that a guy and a girl hanging out, jus the two of them…that’s a date, but if you say it’s a date people get all weird about it.

Pretending someone who is your type isn’t your type…even though they are…

Anyways, for the first few times you meet with whoever you’re interested in in Japan, you’re supposed to pretend that it’s not a date. Appear aloof. Act cool. Honestly, even with staged shows like Terrace House (yes i’m calling it staged! Deal with it…) the way people come off on the first date (oops, I said it) is…honestly pretty robotic and weird…

In my personal experience that is!

Many people ask the kind of standard questions you would hear in an interview, NEVER hold hands, make little eye contact, and almost talk about the other person like they really want them to feel uncomfortable and put on the spot. I think a good example of this is that I have had girls often ask me the first time we were out who my ‘type’ is, and it always comes off to me like this weird verbal challenge. Obviously this person is my type because I asked them out, but if I describe exactly who they are it would be breaking my tatemae shell of coolness. Maybe I could get away with that as a tongue in cheek way of complimenting someone in the West, but in Japan you better keep up that air of mystery. You really have to build up that confession. So I’ll kind of describe that person, but not make it too obvious, and maybe throw in a few mini insults in there too to really keep things interesting!

Just kidding don’t do that

Really though, you hear this ‘type’ question come up all of the time in Japan. It’s a good example of a weird contradiction in Japanese culture, where something that might come across as bit too-forward in the west is something people just blurt out here without thinking. Just like how people in Japan also call each other fat if they put on 1kg, but can’t make eye contact with the cashier when they go to (dishonorably) return a pair a pants.

Huge generalization, but I’m cracking myself up so I wrote it anyways

Gashuku to Nara, 2018. A gashuku is like an official college field trip with group discussions, etc. As the only non-Japanese (who knows how many times i’ve said that in the last 7 years) I was pretty popular with a lot of the girls here. GOOD THING NONE OF THEM WERE MY TYPE *Cool, very aloof face* So mysterious.

Kokuhaku; The confession and how it’s done in Japan

Ahhh Kokuhaku, when all of the repressed emotions and sexual frustration come burstin from men’s pores. After pretending to be indifferent for a few dates (don’t call it that) it can’t be kept in any longer. “Eh, I could take it or leave it” is now “YOU ARE PERFECT AND ALL I WANT IN THIS WORLD!” …or, you know, something like that. No, really for me, it’s the sudden switch from ‘friendship’ to undying love that I find just a bit weird and unnatural. Instead of things gradually progressing, it’s like you’re asking permission to flip a switch from a strictly no-contact low-stakes friendship to becoming passionate lovers, or you know, something like that…

I have done kokuhaku a few times, and it’s gone both well a few times and not well a few times.

There are few things more awkward than riding the train home with a girl who just rejected you, pretending to not be bothered after something like that. Awkward…oh so awkward.

So really, it just depends on the person, but the way everyone handles these social standards tend to up end to be pretty cringey, more often than not. It’s just incredibly clear how disingenuous you are expected to be throughout the majority of the dating process in Japan.

The good things about dating in Japan

One of the good things about the expectations i’ve gone over is that they really do filter out any people you wouldn’t end up wanting to date anyways. Since this could only ever work with two people who genuinelly like each other for more than just looks, I can imagine that relationships in Japan probably last much longer than relationships in the west. Every girl I have dated has been somebody that I have liked enough to where I would be really happy spending time with them just as friends anyways.

The bad things about dating in Japan

I think that we tend to give people a bit more of a chance in the west, and this whole all-or-nothing approach to relationships is definitely not helping Japan’s aging population issue. The typical tatemae expectations and initial distant interactions can make first dates feel more like interviews, than just a test to see whether you can have fun together. I feel like the kokuhaku confession culture also places way too much pressure on people deciding to commit to somebody who they still don’t know that well.

If you are interested in how all social interactions work in Japan…

I wrote another article on making friends in Japan as a foreigner that I’m pretty proud of, so please check that out if you’re interested by clicking the article link below!

How to Teach Yourself Japanese; My Experience

One of the key techniques to teaching yourself Japanese is to record everything. By recording your own progress in learning Japanese you will be able to give yourself the appropriate context regarding own journey and will be able to formulate a plan on how you may progress forward teaching yourself Japanese.

Which Japanese Textbook should you start with?

You should start with Genki 1! As I have said before, my undying love for this textbook has become somewhat of an inside joke with my friends and audience. There are a number of reasons why I recommend Genki 1, the primary one being the fantastic pacing and way it eases you into using the Japanese alphabets. It’s the only beginner’s textbook I’ve used, and the only beginner Japanese textbook I’ve ever needed. You can find Genki 1 at the link below;

GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (English and Japanese Edition)

How to teach yourself Japanese, Technique #1; Write everything down

The advice I always give to people when they ask me how they can improve their Japanese is to write everything down. Record…everything. And I really mean it. You saw a new word that you don’t know? Write it down! If you can’t write it down take a picture. Really though, a lot of people use special techniques to learn kanji, but I think that the best way to learn Japanese kanji is to use the same technique Japanese kids use when they’re going through primary education; A mystical, ancient secret!… The secret of writing down the kanji on a sheet of specialized kanji practice paper again, and again, and again. But you don’t need special kanji practice paper. I’ve got you covered! I sort of subconsciously developed a system for this over the course of teaching myself Japanese What you can do is take out a piece of notebook paper and write each kanji down over and over until you fill a line. Then underneath it, google an example sentence with that particular word, find an example from some Japanese person on google, and then write that example sentence under that. Rinse and repeat everyday, and make this a part of your daily routine. This actually became somewhat of a ritual for me, as I would write my lines daily while listening to podcasts or watching YouTube. The key is to commit the new kanji or vocabulary to your subconscious and muscle memory.

Here is a visual example below;

Here is an example of how to use the process of writing to reinforce important Japanese kanji and vocabulary in your mind

Adopting this habit into your daily routine will help you to retain information while maintaining the stamina necessary for the long-term study methods required for learning Japanese

How to teach yourself Japanese, Technique #2; Record everything you don’t know

This lead a lot of…incidents when I first moved to Japan

See, when I first moved to Japan, I made it my mission to absorb all of the information around me. One cannot truly absorb all of the information necessary for a fulfilling life by popping open the textbook for an hour at the end of the night. This was my philosophy. One must absorb their surroundings.

How I keep track of my progress learning Japanese

So one thing I have done consistently for the past 5 years or so that I have never seen anyone else do, is that I record any new vocabulary I come in contact to in daily lists. A few different Japanese dictionaries allow you to group words within the app by category, and then assign those categories to independent lists. Check the pictures below for a visual example of what I attempting to explain.

The Japanese dictionary I used and how I used it

The Japanese dictionary I use is pinned to the bottom right of my home screen. Do you want to know the name of the app? It’s “Japanese” (日本語) . So sneaky!

It was a pretty simple principle; if you don’t know it, record it, document, learn, and see if you still don’t know it next time. This became the pattern of my life, where the hunger for knowledge becomes a cycle that fuels you to become a more accountable version of yourself on a day-to-day basis.

But, like I said, this lead to some pretty ridiculous scenario’s…

How to teach yourself Japanese, Technique #3; Use your surroundings

I walked this street almost everyday in 2015. Photo taken in Shinsaibashi, Osaka.

One of these scenario’s was when I first moved here, and was determined to learn what it said in Japanese on all of the signs, packages, shirt’s, McDonald’s receipts… you name it!

One day I was waiting at the platform of the train station, scanning the area for new words I could plug into my glorious Japanese dictionary. Then, from the corner of my eye I could see a new sight to behold! A new sign next to the elevator to the ground floor.

Wow! Exciting!

And things were about to get even more exciting. All gung-ho and ready to absorb that tasty bit of Japanese vocabulary self-study material into my mind, I quickly whipped it out.

(I whipped out my phone)

Turned to a camera app, and took a picture of that new and shiny sign. It’s worth mentioning that Japan has a bit of a problem with sneak-photography or tousatsu (盗撮) from sneaky perverts on the trains/ escalators etc, so every phone in Japan by law is required to play a loud shutter sound effect whenever somebody takes a photo , even if it’s on silent.

I took the picture of the sign, eager to my new find into my Japanese dictionary when I got home. And then I noticed all of the eyes around me…were on me…I could feel them…oh so cold and penetrating.

Well, It turns out I took a picture of a new sign was describing how to get to the new milk-lactation room on the 3rd floor! You know, the room specifically designed for women to prepare milk!

How could I be so careless, and insensitive to the demands of lactation area spatial-organization!

Graduation ceremony for my Japanese language school, taken March, 2016.

The funny thing is, I only realized this of course when I got home and deciphered the picture. In retrospect I wish I had kept that photo. The point here is studying your surroundings is probably one of the most practical and fun ways to learn Japanese, but it can get you into some pretty weird situations if you aren’t careful. Honestly though, a few months later and I would be snapping pictures of men’s underwear, pachinko parlor art, and 2-for-1 coupons for the local coco ichibanya curry house. I didn’t care! It might be a strange way to learn Japanese, but it was definitely memorable. Moral of the story; if you want to remember Japanese, give yourself some real-world context.

More resources to learn Japanese

If you are just getting started learning Japanese and are having a bit of a hard time getting started, I think you will really enjoy reading the guide I wrote below. Please check it out!

Some Interesting Japanese Culture in Nintendo Games

Taken at the Kyoto Nintendo headquarters when I applied as a new graduate, 2019

Nintendo has a long history as a traditional Kyoto company that originally manufactured hanafuda cards. Nintendo has a long history of dabbling in different cultural arena’s that have now become staples of Japan. In this post, I will go over some of the interesting Japanese culture I have noticed in Nintendo games as a bilingual Japanese and English speaker.

In fact, this is one of the things that has been the most fun for me as someone who has learned Japanese as an adult. I grew up playing games like Animal Crossing, Mario, Zelda, DK64 with that sexy rap, etc, and one of the more interesting things now as a Japanese speaker is to revisit these games from a fresh perspective by playing them in Japanese. It’s interesting to see how the language impacts the way characters come across, as well as some of the game mechanics.

I looked it up to see if the DK 64 rap was any different in Japanese, but unfortunately they just play the English song with Japanese subtitles… very disappointing, I know.

Japanese culture in The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is an interesting series in terms of Japanese cultural influence, because it is a series based on the childhood adventures creator Shigeru Miyamoto had in the caves and forests around his home in Kyoto, but is also designed to be a series that is more accessible to international audiences.

In Japan, Zelda has kind of gained a reputation as being the Nintendo series that is ultra popular outside of Japan, while it still have its share of domestic fans. That being said, there are definitely some easy-to-spot influences from the Japanese culture to be found in the Zelda games.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the origin of the triforce.

What is the origin of the triforce in The Legend of Zelda?

The image of the triforce is taken directly from Japan’s feudal history. The Hōjō clan, one of the most powerful warrior clans in Japan in the Sengoku period, used the ‘three dragonscales’ as their official clan emblem. This would become the visual inspiration for the triforce used in The Legend of Zelda series.

YOSHITORA, 1863

The Hōjō clan was in control of the Kamakura shogunate between 1203 and 1333, particularly turbulent and unstable times in Japanese history (Sengoku literally means warring states period). This time period saw the introduction of Buddhism into Japan, as well as the attempted invasion of Mongolian forces, the event that would be the inception of the Japanese concept of kamikaze, meaning divine wind. This happened when monsoons destroyed nearly all Mongolian invading ships before they could reach Japan shores. This was a time of great instability, newfound spirituality, and a new calamitous threat approaching from a far-off land. Sound familiar? While this is just conjecture on my part, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was going through Shigeru Miyamoto’s mind when he was crafting the original world for The Legend of Zelda.

Hōjō clan… Hōjō clan? That sounds familiar. Wasn’t that in the Zelda games?

You’re probably thinking of the Yiga clan, which is likely a direct inspiration. Yea, especially in Breath of the Wild, Nintendo is definitely embracing these origins more and more.

Japanese culture in the Animal Crossing series

The Animal Crossing series as whole and especially the original western GameCube release is full of Japanese culture. Some of the more obvious examples of this would be some of the original holidays and unique items, etc.

That being said, I only only started to notice more of the interesting example when I began playing through the games in Japanese. Let’s take a look at some of these examples.

Japanese culture and Tom Nook

Tom Nook is a tanuki, which is also known as the Japanese racoon dog. That’s funny, i’ve never heard anyone who knows about tanuki not call them tanuki, so that was a first for me to hear. Tanuki are an extremely prominent part of Japanese folklore, being known to bring good fortune and bountiful…fertility. Tanuki are also known for their gigantic…orbs.

Orbs of fertility!

Tanuki statues can frequently be seen darted outside Japanese temples, gardens, and neighborhoods. In Japanese folklore tanuki have the ability to transform themselves and objects around them, and are often depicted has wearing a single leaf on their forehead. This is why items are all represented as leaves in Animal Crossing. Despite all of their abilities to transform their surroundings and generate bountiful wealh (let’s forget about the fertility thing) Tanuki are often portrayed as mischievous across Japanese culture. Basically, Tom Nook is a token tanuki. He’s a greedy town/island transforming tycoon hound with a special ability to enhance local villager fertility.

Sorry…ill stop

Unique Japanese communication in Animal Crossing

A brief note about shujyoshi (終助詞)

One of the most interesting things I noticed when revisiting the Animal Crossing series in Japan was the unique use of Japanese shujyoshi (終助詞) or ‘Ending particles’, which is a unique component of the Japanese language and culture. For those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese language, please allow me to explain. Japanese incorporates ending particles, that are (really oversimplifying) essentially unique types of periods you can choose to end your sentence with to create a certain type of nuance. Often these ending particles have a particular nuance in terms of politeness, or more appropriately, the level of honorific politeness they add to a given sentence. Those who have studied even very basic Japanese probably know the word desu (です). This word acts almost like a period, but also at the same time as a sentence qualifier. It simultaneously signifies that the sentence is ending, but also that the sentence is being spoken in Teineigo (丁寧語), which is essentially the standard polite form of Japanese that new Japanese learners will memorize first.

Unfortunately, they do not teach you how to talk like a Yakuza character on your first day of Japanese class.

The important thing to remember is that Shujyoshi (終助詞) are always placed at the ending of a sentence, and that they change the entire meaning of the sentence that comes before it. You can think of it like a question mark in English. A question mark qualifies the entire sentence as a question. In fact, this works very similarly in Japanese, except the shujyoshi in this case would be ka (か)。If there is ka (か) at the end of a sentence in Japanese, the sentence is likely a question.

Japanese in Animal Crossing: shujyoshi (終助詞) are kuchiguse (口癖)

In terms of studying the Japanese culture and language in Nintendo games, the use of shujyoshi in Animal Crossing is really interesting.

Why?

Because there are many, many different forms of shujyoshi in Japnaese beyond the question mark example I gave above. Imagine if there were 20…30 different characters in English that changed the overall nuance of the sentence that came before it. This is pretty much the case in Japanese.

The type of shujyoshi you use plays a large role in creating your overall personality in Japanese, and becomes a large part of your speech patterns and common speaking habits. In animal crossing, every single character has a unique shujyoshi that Nintendo has labeled on the official Animal Crossing website I found (From 2001!) as kuchiguse (口癖)。The English localization teams had a serious job on their hands when they translated the game. For example, goldie the dog finishes every sentence with wan, which is kind of a pun. Wan is the sound dogs make in Japanese, but there is also a popular shujyoshi wa, which is kind of a more feminine way to place emphasis onto your point. It’s a bit like a feminine exclamation mark? So they changed wa to wan to drive home both goldie’s feminine personality and appearance, but also the fact that she’s a dog.

Ha…haha…ha…

There’s hundreds and hundreds of examples like this. I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons in Japanese for nearly a year and then switched the language settings to English to see what it was like. It’s… like a totally different island. The characters, their names and speech patterns…they’re all different. It’s…it’s…it’s CHAOS!!! Character’s names, their personalities, the names of items, I really had to stumble my way through it again when I picked up the English version. And while I haven’t played them myself in Japanese, videos I have seen online suggest that the older titles in the series had even more unique Japanese nuggets in them.

Cultural differences between Nintendo’s Japanese Marketing vs. English US Marketing

One of the common themes you will see across all Japanese-English localization, particularly localization to the United States, is that Japanese marketing favors cute and friendly designs, while US marketing favors rough, gritty, HARDCORE design. I have never seen this disparity on display so clearly as it is with the marketing localization for the Pikmin series. Since the series began in 2001, you can see how Nitendo tried to create an emotional connection to the pikmin in the game. They’re cute, they’re helpless, and they need you to help them!

Then the game came to the US

Now the Pikmin are cute…and maybe even helpless but…THEY’RE ALSO EXPENDABLE SOLDIERS TO BE USED AND DUMPED IN THE PURSUIT OF PLANET-WIDE DOMINATION! Too much? Check out the two commercials below and find out for yourself.

Ai no Uta: The main song used in the Japanese Pikmin commercials

I had a hard time finding it with English subs so please don’t mind the poor video quality. This song is called Ai no Uta (愛の歌), literally means the ‘song of love. ‘ This song actually sold more copies in Japan than the actual pikmin game.

Here is a compilation more recent Japanese commercial for Pikmin 3.

As you can see this whle dynamic of cute vs. tough is pretty prevalent in these commercials, and you can really see how the culture of how games are presented in Japan is different from the US. Another good example of this is in the cultural difference of how the Kirby games are marketed in Japan and America.

Japanese Kirby marketing vs. American Kirby marketing

I think this is another pretty good example. The cultural differences between Japan and the US are pretty clear-cut here, which Japan opting for a more cute and approachable Kirby, while the Kirby in the US looks like he kicks some serious…ash. This is consistent across all of the game-art for the Kirby franchise from what I have seen.

What it was like applying for Nintendo of Japan

In 2019 I applied to the main Nintendo branch in Kyoto of Japan. I went through the new university application process along with other Japanese students in my class. It was a crazy and depressing time. But at the Setsumeikai (説明会) (Basically a mandatory seminar you have to attend to get a job interview as a new graduate. It’s essentially a total waste of time, and a scheduling nightmare, but you have to show up and give everyone your best ‘I’m listening very intently, honorably, and diligently to everything you’re saying‘ face) . The CEO of the company came up and gave a rousing speech about how they were looking for unique go-getters, for candidates that were willing to challenge something before they were told.

Well that sounds like me! I moved all the way across the world to Japan. I’m one of the only non-Japanese people in this rooms of thousands. Now I’m feeling motivated.

In order to distinguish myself from other applicants, and as someone one hoped to become an international correspondent for their localization department, I created a comprehensive localization analysis for several Nintendo games. As Animal Crossing: New Horizons was scheduled to be released early in 2020 and was one of their new games, I focused on the localization changes and unique character-building and linguistic characteristics of the Animal Crossing series. I was pretty proud of it. I sweated, I typed until faint calluses of pain and tears formed on my border-crossing phalanges. And then I never got an interview. Success!!

Wait…what?

It was pretty disappointing, but I guess this kind of thing isn’t what they were looking for? That being said, the report has been sitting in my google drive for 2 years, a cold reminder of that time I didn’t get that job at Nintendo.

Oh so sad

So I thought I would at least put it to some good use and publish some of my more interesting findings here. After all, this is my website. NOBODY CAN TELL ME NO HERE!!! NOBODY!!!! *Attempts to calm-self down by consuming the new season chocolate-mint flavored pocky. yum!* I hope you enjoyed reading through some of my ramblings.

If you are interested in reading more about my life going through university in Japan click the link below.

What Does Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu REALLY mean in Japanese?

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu is phrase that is used to indicate the speakers intention to carry out a healthy and positive relationship with the listener. From a cultural and linguistic standpoint yoroshiku ongeishimasu is a function used to build strong relationships.

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (宜しくお願いします) is a Japanese phrase commonly used in greetings, and is often translated into English as something like “please be kind to me forever.” It is typically said at the end of new interactions, or at the end of interactions in which the context of the conversation suggests that there will future interactions between the speaker and listener in the future. It essentially is a tool that is used to show your good will. One of the most common things you will hear at the end of a business meeting in Japan would be yoroshiku onegaishimasu, or even yoroshiku onegaiITASHIMASU, which would be the more polite version of the phrase. This is because these companies are planning to work together, and they are both depending on the success and good will of the other person. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu reflects the importance that Japanese people place culturally on long-term relationships in Japanese society. This is perhaps why some people have choosen to translate yoroshiku onegaishimasu into English as “please be kind to me forever.” But, is this really the appropriate translation for the phrase?

Does yoroshiku onegaishimasu mean “please be kind to me forever?”

While this isn’t blatantly incorrect, it’s a little bit overdramatic. Japanese people say this phrase so often they barely think about it. In fact, in modern Japanese people use yoroshiku onegaishimasu so often, that the way the phrase is used reminds me a bit of how English speakers often ask “how are you?” Many Japanese people comment on this, since Japanese speakers use the equivalent ogenki desu ka (お元気ですか) far less often than an English speaker may use “how are you?”. How many times have you heard somebody ask “How are you?”, only for someone to respond “good”, and then vent all of the problems that are going on in their life. It’s become a formality for people to use this in Japan. While it is expected of you to use yoroshiku onegaishimasu to show your good will, I don’t think it is quite as serious of a phrase as many people would depict it as when translating it into English.

Instead of “please be kind to me forever” perhaps a more correct translation would be something like “I hope any future interactions we have will be smooth and without issues. The key is that the nuance of yoroshiku ongeishimasu suggests that there is future work to be done. For example, if you were to meet some stranger in a bar while backpacking through Japan, and you were going to be leaving the next day with very little chance of every seeing them again, it would be strange to use yoroshiku onegaishimasu. In this scenario, if the stranger has given you a lot of advice, or maybe even bought you a drink, a more appropriate thing to say would be osewa ni narimashita (お世話になりました). This is a strong example of how one’s surroundings may dictate the style of communication their adopt while speaking in Japanese, and is a cornerstone for understand both Japanese culture, and the Japanese language.

Do you only say yoroshiku onegaishimasu the first time you meet somebody?

No, people will still continue to say yoroshiku onegaishimasu when the situation calls for it. As I had stated above, any situation that suggests a continued interaction towards a mutually beneficial goal, or a goal that will help to maintain harmony within a group, will call for people to use yoroshiku onegaishimasu .You can think of it as being similar to a promise. “I promise to do a great job on this assignment” for the person taking on an assignment and, “Good luck. I hope that your success on this assignment will continue to strengthen our relationship.” for the person who is depending on the outcome of that assignment. This requires some understanding of the dependency people hold for each other in Japanese society. Dependency is a very important concept in Japanese society, which is one of the reasons why intrinsic mutual benefit is seen as such an important pillar of Japanese community and culture.

The next step to learn Japanese

If you are learning the proper usage of yoroshiku onegaishimasu, you are probably dabbling in the idea of studying Japanese. Well, great news for you! I have gone through this process myself, and know first hand how confusing and difficult it can be to get started, particularly when it comes to learning the three alphabets used in Japanese. So, I wrote as detailed a guide to help with this as I possibly could, which you can read by clicking the link below. I hope you will find this helpful on your journey to getting started learning Japanese.

Should you Move to Japan? My Advice and Experience

My primary university “zemi” class, photo taken in 2018. In Japan, going out drinking with your class and teacher is a very regular thing.

Living in Japan as a Japanese native and as a foreigner are two very different experiences. A great example of this; in Japan people tend to be more indirect and shy, which means that as a foreigner in order to succeed, you are almost required to take charge. Many different contradictions such as this exists.

Should you move to Japan?

Ohhhh so many drinking parties. In Japan, drinking parties are called ‘nomikais’. I think this photo was taken in early 2019.

If you are somebody who is driven to put themselves in a potentially challenging and socially-isolating environment, moving to Japan will be one of the best decisions you have ever made. Japanese culture tends to exacerbate any shortcoming we have as people, and forced us to improve on them.

Why is that?

Because living in Japan in entirely what you make it. If you are a likable, open, and friendly person, it will be very possible to make friends in Japan. You stand out, and you will be able to take advantage of that on a minute-to-minute basis. On the other hand, people who move to Japan who are more pessimistic may come to realize that they ‘hold all of the cards’ in their relationships, so to speak. So much of the outcome of whether or not you will have a great life in Japan or not depends on your ability to make the most of every situation. This is a process of seizing every opportunity, overcoming fear, and coming to see failure as both a motivator and opportunity.

So much of life in Japan is about coming out of your shell and facing your fears. I think many introverts relate to Japanese culture, where people tend to be more soft-spoken and indirect, but quickly realize after moving here that if they want to get anywhere with life in Japan, they need to make everything happen by themselves. In Japan, most people are afraid to approach you, and things generally get much more fun when you take charge and take it as your role to make the people around you feel as comfortable with you as possible.

You can read more about this social dynamic between foreigners and native Japanese residents through some of the later paragraphs in another one of my articles below where I go over my personal experience studying at a Japanese university;

What’s It Like Studying at a Japanese University? My Experience

There are many reasons why this dynamic can be difficult for foreigners to adjust to. In particular those who spent their lives as the ethnic majority of their country will probably not be used to having to break into a system that was designed well without their situation in mind. So many times in Japan there just…won’t exist any option for somebody with a foreign passport or to accomplish some goal, unless you can really finagle your way through some pretty complex situations.

I can’t begin to explain how many issues I have had creating credit cards, accounts over various different websites, and doing things as simple as registering for a bank account all because I have a middle name, and there is no space to enter your middle name on a website, but all of your documents must match your bank account which I was forced to match with the name on my US passport, so you need to send in the application again but explain the situation over the phone to somebody who is terrified because they’re talking to a foreigner, and then. And then…and then… *head explodes*

The reality of all of these systems in Japan, be it bureaucratic, academic, work-related or social, are not designed for foreigners in mind. The population of Japan is still 98% ‘pure’ Japanese, and so whether or not you can make it and be happy here becomes a sometimes-brutal reflection of your own insecurities, fears, and missed opportunities. In a country where people will never speak to you first, never reach out to you first, and in a society where spontaneity and unpredictability are largely unvalued, it can be an almost overwhelming amount of pressure to ‘take the reigns’ so-to-speak here, and try to carve out the kind of life you are aiming for. If you are okay with working within this system, and not expecting things to be laid out for you, things have a tendency to work themselves out. I will also say that the employees at immigration and across most institutions in Japan are generally really helpful, and will work with you if you can speak Japanese.

When and why I moved to Japan

Me with some college friends during the year I spent studying at a college in the US. Photo taken in early 2014

In 2015 I moved to Japan to enroll in a Japanese language school. I moved here because I had enrolled in a University in early 2013, and was exposed to a multitude of different cultures so intensely and inescapably that I saw challenging life abroad as the next step in my journey. I moved here because of all the Japanese friends I made. I moved here because of the girl I was dating at the time, and all of the time I had spent invested in learning about the culture and language. But really, I moved here because of the potential growth I saw in myself. To learn another language and culture, to truly immerse oneself in an entirely different mode of being and viewpoint of the world; this is something that I wanted to be able to look back on my life and say that I had done. That I had faced the odds and adversity, and still overcame it to become a positive and happy member of an entirely different society than the one I had grown up in. I moved here in 2015 to learn Japanese in Japan, but I also moved here to expand my horizons, discover what was ‘out there’, and see what kind of person I could become. It was the ultimate challenge, and I’m really happy that I choose to move here, even though it can be very, very difficult at times.

How moving to Japan has changed my perspective on complicated issues, and the way I live my life

Many of the conversations I had in University in Japan affected my perspective on how issues are tackled, and many of our debates immeasurable affected the way I viewed the world.

In Japan there is this concept of shoganai, meaning that there is no use getting upset over a subject if becoming emotional about an issue if your emotions don’t result in any meaningful change or improvement. This concept permeates ever corner of life in Japan, perhaps even to point of fault. There is an upside to shoganai culture, and there is also a fine line between saying shoganai with the intent of controlling one’s emotions, and saying shoganai with the ulterior motive of turning a blind eye to difficult issues out of convenience. This was the exact opposite of what I was confronted with growing up in The United States, and countless cultural aspects such as this were truly eye-opening experiences.

Since moving to Japan, I have trained myself to try to tackle every issue, every debate and fight with a more ‘grey’ mindset. People in Japan tend to have very balanced opinions towards the majority of topics, which is great but can also have some negative side-effects. People (especially the younger generations) tend to be nearly indifferent to political issues, to the point where they think that it literally has “no connection to me”. When comparing the US and Japan, both of these viewpoints exist on the opposite end of a spectrum of which I would like to strive to exist comfortable in the middle of. Whether a stereotypical Japanese or American outlook on the world, neither of these viewpoints are particularly ideal, and certainly neither are particularly healthy. Japan was able to give me an important perspective on a nearly opposite attitude to much of what I was exposed through during my experience in the American education system, I allowed for me to form a more well-rounded worldview that is aimed at existing comfortably in the middle of many contrasting frames of thought.

Why I am writing about this, and why it is something you should consider if you are thinking of moving to Japan

Me and some friends enjoying the new-and-improved area near Tennoji, Osaka. Photo taken sometime between 2017-2018

I think that many people (possibly me included) come to Japan initially in an often dubbed “honeymoon phase” with Japanese culture. Fed up with the singlemindedness of our own societies, upon discovering an entirely different perspective on things through a society that functions arguably better than our own home countries, I think a lot of people develop a sort of mental “gotcha!” complex towards many of the problems they have been facing in their lives.

The point of all of this, is that Japan is a great country, and I love living here. I’m happy I moved to Japan, and I can recommend for you to move here too. But instead of creating a list of all of the reasons I love Japan, how much I love the food, how beautiful and other-worldly many of the scenic spots are here, I wanted to get deep, and deep straight to the core of how many people are probably feeling when they decide to move to Japan. Moving to Japan can not give you a hard reset on life. All of your shortcomings, fears, and insecurities, these are all things that you will carry with you onto that initial flight. What moving here will do, and this is the thing that has kept me going over the past seven years, is make is incredibly apparent where your shortcomings lie, but also give you direct feedback through your daily interactions as to how you can overcome these shortcomings. In short, it provides you with an opportunity, to look inward and become a much stronger version of yourself, which has been a really great experience. As I have written above, nearly every interaction, apartment search, job search, friends you make, your ability to learn Japanese, on and on and on… these things are all entirely in your hands.

So, if you are thinking of moving to Japan, I want you to ask yourself; “How far am I willing to go?”, and “Am I ready to truly take responsibility 100% for the outcome of everything in my life?”

Life can be brutal here, but it can also be really fun, and more importantly, really rewarding. If you are looking for an adventure and meaning in my your life, I so no reason why you shouldn’t move to Japan and join us all here.

If you are interested in moving to Japan, you are probably interested in learning Japanese. If you would like to know about my exact experience studying Japanese, please check out the articles below. I will walk you through the first steps you need to take to start making progress in becoming fluent.

The next step for you to start learning Japanese

Throughout all of my articles I recommend the beginner Japanese textbook Genki 1 , which is the only beginner Japanese textbook I ever used. The way it eases you through the different Japanese alphabets and beginner grammar points is very beginner-friendly while still the reader to challenge themselves

You can read more about why I recommend Genki 1, as well as how to get started learning how to write Japanese at the below article “Which Japanese Alphabet Should you Learn First? A Beginner’s Guide”

If you are interested in hearing about my experience entering a Japanese language school when I first moved to Japan in early 2015, please check out the article below.

What to Do the Night You Arrive In Tokyo; My Experience

Since moving to Japan seven years ago I’ve shown around 10 friends around Tokyo (before I even moved to Tokyo) across 3 different trips. Based on my experience as an impromptu tour guide and long-term Japan expat, please allow me to create your itinerary for what you should do your first night in Tokyo

Hm…it’s important to take time to contemplate…what is the best way to spend your first night in Tokyo? Here… please allow me to take time to think in front of my contemplation monkey.

A bit about me, and why you should listen to me when planning your trip to Tokyo

My with my main University course (called a “zemi” in Japanese). Photo taken in 2018

Hi, my name is Evan, and I moved to Japan in early 2015. Since I have studied at a Japanese language school, studied at Japanese university, went through the insane job hunting process for new graduates in Japan, moved to Tokyo from Osaka for work, and have now been living here for a few years. I have shown multiple people around Japan, while I have also lived here for around 7 years, so I understand life here, and also know how people feel when they first get off the plane and arrive at Tokyo Haneda airport. I believe it is very important to respect the Japanese culture, but that it’s also important to have fun. Let me guide you through my tips (based on three different times I showed friends around in Tokyo) on how to spend your first night in Tokyo.

For just your first night, splurge on a taxi to your hotel

So this is an interesting one, and only applicable if you’re flying into Haneda airport and not Narita airport. I have had the experience of picking up 3 different groups of friends from Haneda airport, and becoming their unofficial bilingual tour-guide. The first time I was pretty against wasting money on a taxi into the city, because Tokyo Haneda airport is pretty close to the actual city part of Tokyo (Tokyo as a prefecture is really, really wide). It takes roughly less than 30 minutes to ride the train of Tokyo Haneda to Shinjuku station, which is what I would consider to be the heart of Tokyo. A taxi, on the other hand, will take around 15 minutes, and costs around 9000 yen, or around 80 US dollars.

I know…I know… it’s a lot

Picking up my friend’s brother with my friend who I showed around Tokyo, so I could show him and his brother around Tokyo! Efficient? NO! But now I have all of this ‘showing-people- around-Tokyo’ experience! Photo taken in 2018

And I used to think that way too. But here’s the thing; You only get one first impression of Tokyo. Your first night you’re going to be jet-lagged, starved, in a fever dream…on a different planet really after what is likely a 10+ hour-long flight.

Where should you go first in Tokyo?

Basically, Shinjuku is the best place to head to first to really feel like you’re in Japan. It’s close to the airport, has a ton to do, and is aesthetically culture-shock-inducing. What more could you ask for?

So yeah, after you check into your hotel and drop off your luggage, head out to Shinjuku station (Shinjuku station, NOT Nishi-Shinjuku or Nishi-Shinjuku Gochome.)

Why head to Shinjuku first?

Have you ever seen Lost in Translation? You know, that movie where Bill Murray poses for glamour shots in a bath robe…or something like that? Well, the first shot of that movie when he’s looking around at the surrounding lights from his taxi; most of that scene was shot around the shinjuku area. Shinjuku is probably aesthetically the most similar to what you are imagining when you think of Tokyo. Neon lights, neon lights…and more neon lights. A veritable metropolis of lights and izakaya Japanese-style pubs just waiting to be explored! Really, the real reason to head to Shinjuku first is so that you can take in the atmosphere. Take a few group photos, and get some good food. You can do that in most areas in Tokyo, but nowhere else is quite so iconic.

Plus, I know how you reall feel…You rode the flight, you made it through security, YOU EARNED THIS! Now throw your arms into the air ala Shawshank Redemption. Scream into the heavens to assert your dominance to the local population!

“ULULULULU!!!! Tokyo, Tokyo, now i’m here! Now it’s time…for some beer!” or something like that. You get the idea.

Okay, you don’t need to do that. Yeah…please don’t do that. But your mind will…deep down inside where no one can here you.

Shinjuku practically represents nightlife as a whole for Tokyoites, being famous for not only it’s plethora of great restaurants, bars, and shops, but also for having Japan’s most famous nightlife district. Although I’m not suggesting you go there.

Infact…

Something to keep in mind: Avoid Kabukicho

The entire Kabukicho area is a really famous red-light district in Japan. The area isn’t… dangerous, but this place is like a spider’s web for new foreigners in Japan. If you don’t know what you’re doing, and can’t read Japanese, a lot of people wander into Kabukicho without even knowing it. While the area is sleazy for obvious reasons, that’s not why i’m telling you to avoid it. Many of the shops and restaurants in Kabukicho are very often scams or, at the very least, rip-offs designed to target desperate Japanese men and foreigners who don’t know any better.

In fact, the only bad food experience I’ve ever had at a Japanese restaurant was near Kabukicho. The area in general (for obvious reasons, again) attracts some of the weirder people in Japan.

I would just avoid it. There’s plenty of other stuff to do in Shinjuku. Let me give you some suggestions!

Visit an izakaya

I get a lot of questions from people on what they should eat when they come to Japan, and I always answer to “head to an izakaya”.

What is an izakaya?

Izakaya are often called ‘Japanese-style pubs’, but I think that emphasis is more on food than drinking. Izakaya are an integral part of the social experience in Japan, as they are restaurants that are designed to supply large amounts of varied foods and drinks to large groups of people.

This is a huge part of the Japanese nomikai (飲み会) also known as drinking party culture. To read more about that, please feel free to read my article here What Do People Do For Fun in Japan? The Concept of “Nijikai”

Can you visit an izakaya with kids?

While I am catering this article to people who can drink and enter more adult places. You can still enter izakaya with kids. The drinking laws and regulations are actually pretty relaxed in Japan. By the way, the drinking age in Japan is 20 years old, but I have never seen anybody actually get asked to show their ID here. If you’re with family, I recommend visiting an Izakaya, and then visiting the Hanazono-jinja Shrine and calling it a day.

What kind of food can you get at an izakaya?

While it can vary greatly depending on the restaurant, you can expect a huge variety of foods ranging from yakitori, sashimi, nankotsu, different types of salad and tofu, motsunabe, edamame and sukiyaki, the list could go on and on. The focus at an izakaya is on ordering many different side dishes.

There are usually well over 100 things on each izakay amenu, so it’s a bit difficult to pin-point a few staple foods. While you probably can’t imagine exactly what you are going to get at an izakaya, I guarantee you can find something that you will like. Most izakaya serve things like french fries as well, so even if you’re really picky you can probably still find something. So where to start? Let me give you a few recommendations!

How much does it cost to eat at an izakaya?

Generally speaking, izakaya meals will cost anywhere from 3000 yen (around 30USD) to 5000 yen (around 50USD.) Tabehoudai or “all you can eat” will usually cost you around 3000 yen (30USD), while many places will charge 5000 yen (50USD) for Tabenomihoudai “all you can eat and drink”. There is also nomihoudai “all you can drink” which is typically 2000 yen (20USD). You can also order by item, but especially nomihoudai “all you can drink” can save you some money if you plan on having more than 2 drinks.

A tip regarding paying in Japan

Most places in Japan still don’t accept credit cards. Thus, you will need to split the bill between everyone in your group with cash. To make this process easier I recommend making sure everyone has at least 4 1000 yen bills. This will just make things easier over the course of the night. Trust me. I typically do this by withdrawing 9000 yen from an atm. This will force the ATM to give you 1 5000 yen bill, and 4 1000 yen bills (if you withdraw 10000 you will get 1 10000 (equivalent of 100 USD note, which is why I withdraw 9000 yen).

Where to head to: Izakaya recommendations

So I don’t have any favorite Izakaya’s bookmarked, but I did look up some Japanese reviews for you and picked up the best-looking one’s. You should be good to pick one of these for dinner.

Izakaya Recommendation # 1; Banya 番屋 新宿東口店

When searching for izakaya to add to this list, I evaluation spots based on a few different criteria. First, I want to recommend an izakaya that feels authentically Japanese. Second, I looked at the menu. Third, I looked at the reviews from Japanese locals. Banya performed well on all fronts. Plus, Banya being very close to Shinjuku station makes it a great choice.

Izakaya recommendation #2; Kitakyushu Sakaba 北九州酒場

For something a little bit different, i’m going to include a recommendation for kitakyushu sakaba. Kitakyushu is a region of Japan that is famous for having a strong influence from Okinawan culture, as well as surrounding asian countries. Most of all, it is famous for noodles. Like ramen and udon! The biggest city in this area is Fukuoka, which is one of my personal favorite cities in all of Japan. I have visited 3 times already! I really love Kyushu food, so if you’re looking to try something a bit off the beaten path I think this would be a good choice. One of the Japanese reviews was from someone who is from the Kyushu area, and they said that the food is really authentic.

Visit Golden Gai

Golden gai is oh, so much cooler at night. Trust me.

If you’re up for drinking a bit more, you should head down to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai (lit. means golden street.) Golden gai is a tiny alley with 100’s of tiny, tiny…really tiny theme bars. And they really are small. Most bars in golden gai can fit maybe…5 people? It is also famous for being somewhat exclusive. Some places will turn you away if you’re a foreigner, especially if you can’t speak Japanese, but if you have some courage and are polite you should get in somewhere. Despite the reputation, many owners I have met down here are happy to talk with foreigners and practice their English. That being said, I do speak Japanese however, so that may have helped them warm up to me? Anyways, it’s worth giving it a shot! It’s a very Japanese experience, and a fun way to get some more drinks in on your first night. Go talk with the locals, dive into the deep end, and see some pretty ridiculous décor. It’s a great time!

Visit the nearby Hanazono-jinja Shrine

The Hanozono-jinja shrine is literally a 2 minute walk from golden gai, so you might as well go see your first shrine in Japan, right? Head over, and take a breather. You’ll probably need it after being in 6 x 6 rooms for so long.

Head back to the station, and visit the Toho cinemas with the giant Godzilla head

Take a walk back to station and go find the toho cinemas with the giant Godzilla head on top. This is one of those things that isn’t really worth going out of your way for, but is the perfect small goal you need to enjoy a slow walk back through Shinjuku . Enjoy the sights…

Until you go find the ultimate site!

In conclusion

So that’s what I got! That should get you around… 5 or 6 hours of fun on your first night? If you still have time left over you can hit a nearby karaoke parlor (actually, you can see in the picture above that the blue sign on the left is for a karaoke parlor), or you could just walk around and explore some of the surrounding areas. Also, if you’re interested in trying ramen while you’re in Japan, feel free to check out the below article, where I go over some key differences in the way you should order ramen in Japan, vs. what you may be used to in your own country. One of these key differences is in NOODLE HARDNESS!!! Check it out haha.