10 Interesting Snippets of Life in Japan

01 Sing until your heart’s content, but don’t hog the limelight!

Everyone loves karaoke, especially in Japan! Enjoy the luxury of sharing your own private Karaoke parlour with friends. Songbooks usually have a large selection of songs for you to enjoy, but remember not to hog it! The polite thing to do is to choose a song, sing it and then enjoy everyone else’s superstar renditions.

02 Friends come first when enjoying a few drinks

In Japan when drinking with a guest, friend or work associate, it is customary to pour their drinks first and to refill their glass as soon as it is empty. Your guest will also do the same for you and it’s very common to share large bottles of beer (called “Bin Biiru”) or sake amongst a group of people. Plus remember to always say a big “Kampai” (cheers!) to kick the night off.

03 Business cards and bowing – the right way to get results

Business cards (called “meishi”) are extremely important when meeting clients for the first time, but you can’t just hand them over as we do here in Australia. The polite way of doing this is to hold the business card with two hands while bowing (called “Ojigi”). This will ensure you make a good first impression and sew the seeds for future success!

04 Capsule hotels – cheap sleeps in small places

Space is at a premium in Japan, especially in the major cities. It makes sense that capsule hotels (kapuseru hoteru) were developed in large cities for a cheap night’s sleep. The capsules generally measure no more 2m by 1m, but provide ample room to crash in the heart of the metropolis. Prices can be as cheap as 2,000 yen to 4,000 yen a night ($20 – $40) so if you don’t mind small spaces and want to try something unique to Japan, why not give one a go?

05 Customer service is everything – you are the king

Japan is known as a country with some of the warmest hospitality in the world. No matter whether you spend 100 yen ($1) in a convenience store or 10,000 yen ($100) in a top class restaurant, you will always be greeted with a loud “Irrashaimase” (“welcome”) and given impeccable service. Hospitality is built around the notion that customers should be treated with the highest respect.

06 Shoes are for the outside world, so leave them at the door

Cleanliness is paramount in Japan, so when entering a Japanese house it is customary to remove your shoes in the area known as the ‘Genkan’ (foyer area). There will usually be a small step where you can then change into the slippers provided to be worn inside the house. Japanese feet are generally smaller in size so you may find the slippers don’t quite fit but that’s half the fun!

07 Enjoying nature’s gift to Japan, the onsen (hot spring)

Japan is a land of volcanoes and constant seismic activity, with thousands of natural hot springs (called “onsen”) spread throughout the country. The feeling of soaking your bones after a hard day’s skiing or sightseeing can’t be beaten, but there are a few points to remember. First, before entering the men’s (男) or women’s (女) baths, make sure you use the small towel provided and do not wear any swim wear. Then ensure you wash thoroughly from head to toe. When at last you let out that first ‘ahhhhh’ and slip into the spring water, place your small towel either on your head or on the side but not in the water. Enjoy!

08 The Japanese toilet – exactly what can’t it do?

The land of the rising sun is at the forefront of technology, with some of the craziest and most unique inventions known to mankind, but they all have a purpose including the multi-buttoned Japanese toilet. Forget your standard half flush / full flush option. In Japan, you can also choose the temperature of the toilet seat, the power and style of the cleansing water and even whether you would like accompanying music (Mozart anyone?). There are pictures explaining what most things do but if you ever need help, just ask out loud ‘Douyatte nagashimasu ka’ (how do I flush)?

09 Slurp and enjoy – the art of eating noodles

Unlike in the western world where making noise while eating is frowned upon, slurping while eating soba and ramen noodles is very much encouraged. In fact, it actually shows appreciation and enjoyment! So next time you order a bowl, why not join in the chorus of slurping and enjoy your meal in true Japanese style. Plus if you really enjoyed them, try saying “Gochisou sama deshita” (thank you for the delicious meal) when you have finished!

10 Tokyo Disneyland celebrates 30 years

Japanese love animation and western pop culture, so it’s easy to see why 30 years ago in 1983 Disney decided to open its first international theme park in Tokyo. Every day thousands of Japanese and tourists alike flock to the park to enjoy all the attractions and fun that only Disneyland can offer. So why not spend a day or two exploring when you’re next in Tokyo?


The Many faces of Nara

The Kumano Kodo links the famous Yoshino area in Nara Prefecture with Kumano
via Mount Omine. The 170km trek, which has been used as a training ground for
ascetic monks since the 7th century, is one of the most difficult and dangerous
trails of the Kumano Kodo, but there many less strenuous activities to enjoy.
Yoshino Mountain features more than 30,000 cherry trees which form clouds of
delicate pink blossoms in the spring. The area is also home to the famous Kinpusen-
ji temple and the esoteric monks who train there.

A Walk in the Park

Nara city, originally known as Heijo, was established as Japan’s first permanent
capital in 710.

Nara’s Todaiji temple, constructed in 752, is home to a 15 metre high seated
Buddha whose raised hand is as tall as a human being. As with many of Nara’s
attractions, Todaiji is located in Nara Park, which is also home to over 1200 deer. In Japanese folklore deer were considered to be sacred and they are certainly still
well treated, with many visitors feeding them on specially made rice crackers
called ‘shika senbei’ or deer crackers.

Narazuke and other Culinary Delights

In Nara, it is not only the deer which enjoy the culinary delights on offer.
Visitors to Nara can try Narazuke, a dish made by pickling vegetables or fish in sake lees, a much more sophisticated affair than the vinegary pickles which most Australians have grown up with.

Other local delicacies include Kaki no hazushi or Nara sushi, neat little packages
of rice topped with salmon or mackerel and wrapped in a persimmon leaf. The
antibacterial properties of the leaf were an important preservative in the days
before refrigeration.


Delighting all the senses

cuisine and sake

A traditional Japanese multi-couse “Kaiseki” dinner


Cuisine and Sake

Japanese cuisine is famously light and healthy with very little sugar, salt, fat or oil. It is based on a rice, fish or noodle staple served with mountain or sea vegetables. It is made as much for taste and presentation as it is to fill you up, but even then Japanese people say “Hara hachi-bun”, which means they eat only 80% of what they can. Expect smaller servings, except if you’re trying Chanko-nabe (a hot pot), which is what sumo wrestlers eat to gain their bulk.

While sushi is the most recognisable Japanese food in Australia, it isn’t as celebrated in its native home. Instead, there are Ramen bars that serve noodles which are significantly better than the instant variety, and izakaya, which are reasonably priced corner restaurants with local vibes. Yakiniku (BBQ) is also popular with locals, as is other local styles such as Teppan-yaki. A battered mix cooked in Osaka on a hot plate is called Okonomiyaki, and Monjayaki, which is a Tokyo variation. Preparation of the battered mix is entirely up to the customer, meaning that the resulting pancake is only limited by one’s tastes and preferences, though helpful staff are always on hand to cook the house special. Besides Ramen, there are many types of soba, which is thicker with variations made from rice. Every area has famous specialties: Hokkaido is famous for king crabs and a salmon stew called Ishikari-nabe. Nagoya is renowned for Miso Katsu, fried pork fillet with sweet miso sauce. There are also fast food outlets, but with a Japanese twist, such as mayonnaise on pizza. A Japanese kind of fast food is Gyudon, essentially beef on rice that is tastier than it sounds. There is also high cuisine and specialty food to suit the most demanding gourmet, whether it is high-end sushi restaurants or Wagyu premium beef. For thrill seekers, there is fugu, a poisonous blowfish that is expertly prepared by a certified chef.

Sake (called Nihonshu in Japanese), or Japanese rice wine, comes in a wide range of qualities and distillation methods: micro-distilleries, premium aged types and local styles. Niigata Prefecture is known for its premium sake made from pure alpine water from melted snow. Another variation is Shochu, a kind of Japanese Vodka.