初詣: First shrine visit of the new year

How2: Hatsumode in Nabari

While living in Japan, it is inevitable that you will pick up some good and some bad habits- it’s just how it goes. One habit that I adore, and will miss, is Hatsumoude or visiting a shrine at the beginning of January.

A Shrine worker stoking the fire

Hatsumoude is held at most if not all shrines across Japan and each shrine offers a different benefit such as business success, transportation safety, academia etc.

The main shrine in Nabari city is Urufu Shrine, located in the Hirao district of Nabari. The main benefit of performing Hatsumode at this shrine is transportation safety (交通安全) and charms (お守り) can be bought (and were bought) for 500 JPY to help ensure your safety.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with a massive bonfire, which had the delightful job of keeping me warm while I waited for midnight to welcome in the new year. A tent was set up which offered sake, sweet sake and dried fish (all of which were delicious!).

Everyone was enjoying the fine heat and looking at our phones to see when the clock struck midnight. Suddenly many people seemed to quietly erupt with the phrase “あけおめ” or an informal happy new year. There was quite a queue to pray and thank the kami for the previous year and for help with the coming. Naturally, I took lots of photos, but they were terrible- so I had to visit another shrine.

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積田神社 or Sekita Shrine

Sekita Shrine is an ancient shrine with a 1250 year-old history and it is dedicated to the Shinto Kami Kashimaookami (鹿島大神). It is said that in ancient times before the opening of the heavens and the earth, Kashimaookami was appointed by Tenso Tenjin and descended from the heavens to earth (or from Takamagahara).

Kashimaookami is particularly known for their protection of the Tohoku region (northern man-land Japan) and has been worshipped as a god of military arts and equal to the god of thunder (war). More modern depictions include the phrase “鹿島立ち” meaning to set off on a journey and as a god who will protect you on your journey- or a perfect kami to ask for protection when travelling back to the UK.

A bonfire is still burning 2 days later

When entering a shrine, you are expected to purify yourself with hand washing (post to come) and when coming up to the shrine, make an offering of saisen (賽銭) or donations into the donation box or offertory box (賽銭箱- the kanji is a bit literal). Luck donation amounts are usually considered to be 5, 50 , or 500 JPY(the ‘best’ donation is 9 5 JPY coins- a good fate from beginning to end). But why 5 yen coins?

5 yen in Japanese is pronounced go-en (五円) and guess what this is the same as? If you guessed Pulmonary aspiration- 誤嚥 (swallowing the wrong way) go try to brilliant medical Japanese skills but I meant ご縁 or luck/ fortune.

After praying or asking a kami for a wish, it is traditional to get an Omikuji or fortune for the year ahead. Fortunes cost 100 JPY and it is either a ‘lucky dip’ or shaking a wooden contained until a wooden rod emerges with a number which corresponds to a fortune.

If your fortune is bad, you have the option of keeping it- it is an option- or tying it to a rope at a shrine to keep the bad fortune enshrined there instead.

Omikuji will give you a complete fortune and advise on matters from academic success, financial success, matters of the heart, travel, health etc- in much more detail than a horoscope (AN I did write “horror scope” but that would be a bit morbid now wouldn’t it).

Finally, I would like to wish you all a very happy new year from Nabari and Japan or in Japanese: 新年あけましておめでとうございます.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring in 2020!

Nabari City
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How2: romaji

ひのとり becomes Hinotori in romaji

Anyone who either learns or attempts to learn Japanese comes across romaji or romanized Japanese. Other languages have similar systems (pinyin for Chinese, romaja for romanised Korean etc- there are many different systems to represent each language).

In simple terms, romaji (Japanese romanisation of either Kana or Kanji) for most sounds is simple. Japanese sounds are either a vowel or a consonant and examples of singular vowel sound are: “a, i, u, e, and o”. In English there are the main vowels (we’ll ignore y) but each sound is pronounced differently- which is extremely important to note.

The phonics of each sound are:

  • /a/ from fat
  • /i/ from ink
  • /u/ from Uber
  • /e/ from egg
  • /o/ from video

Please note, there are no other ways to pronounce the letters- unlike English- there is either the correct or incorrect way.

These 5 sounds are then combined with a consonant either: k, s, t, n, h. m, y, r, or w. Together sounds such as ra, ma, ya etc are created. There are obviously exceptions. The main exceptions are

  • fu (not hu)
  • ha in a sentence is pronounced as “wa”
  • wi, wu, we- these sound have been mostly removed from the language
  • wo is just pronounced o
  • n- is a consonant digraph. Imagine the m sound you make when thinking- not pronounced but made in the throat. This is n.

With this basic understanding, the following sentence can be read:

watashi ha nihongo wo yomemasu. ( I can read Japanese)

For any visitors, this is immensely helpful with reading Japanese signs or simple sentences. Now we’ll get into it a bit more.

There are a lot more rules for transliteration on Japanese and converting elongated sounds to romaji but in order to read romaji and write, you need to be aware of some slight differences.

An elongation in a u sound may be represented in one of the following ways:

  • u- without any hit elongation (technically a mistake)
  • either using uu or uo to stress an elongation
  • û shows a stress and thus elongation
  • ū uses a line to show a lengthened vowel

I hope you enjoyed my into into the romanisation of Japanese.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: Japanese addresses

Japan, unlike many other countries seems to enjoy inductive rather than deductive reasoning, that is to say they look at life from big to small, rather than small to big.

Such examples of this in Japan is their group culture, being either in (内) or (外) out of a group and thus accepted. It is an invisible barrier that every foreigner needs to cross to be accepted in the community or city that they live in. In addition to this, Japanese addresses follow a similar trend- they look at the wider community before the local and then the individual property- with a slight exception of the post code (ZIP code).

In order not to either 1. give my address away or 2. help commit identity theft, I will use Nabari City hall’s address as it is a public body.

  • 〒518-0492 – The first line is the post code. When sending a letter to Japan, the 〒 or Japanese postal symbol is not needed.
  • 三重県- Mie Prefecture. Once established that you are sending a letter to Japan, you need to narrow it down to the prefecture (都道府県)
  • 名張市- next is the city which in this case is Nabari. Cities are also districts. Nabari is a massive area and if you speak to someone else who lives there, you make the distinction of either a slightly smaller area (美旗- Mihata or 名張市街- Nabari city (as in the intercity)
  • 鴻之台1番町- smaller area within a city. This specific area is Konodai number 1 block/ neighborhood/ district etc
  • 1 – which is the building number. For the city hall, being number 1 makes logical sense.

If you are sending a package to Japan, you will need to write “JAPAN” in big letters on the package. Additionally, it does not matter is you write the address in Kanji or romaji (romanised Japanese i.e. using letters instead of symbols).

Occasionally, you do end up with a double name being used, for example Nara Prefecture, Nara city; Osaka Prefecture, Osaka city; Tokyo Prefecture, Tokyo City etc.

I hope this HOW2 was helpful. Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: Japanese Halloween

Japanese vocabulary for Halloween

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Halloween is a very commercial time for the Japanese, especially those with children or those who work with children. Here’s a handy list of some spooky vocabulary for you.

Firstly, picture the scene you are at a ハロウェインパルティ(Halloween party) and you are really enjoying seeing all the 怖い飾り(spooky decorations) hanging all around you.

The problem with these 怖い飾り is that they are sub-dollar store quality. You look around and see a giant hairy くも(spider), in it’s 蜘蛛の巣(spider web)along with black コウモリ (bat- animal) small orange かぼちゃ (pumpkins). There are かぼちゃ everywhere! They are next to the キャンディー/ 菓子 (sweets or candy), and next to a TV where a ホラー映画 (horror film) is playing.

You’re actually a bit bored and you decide to mingle a bit, you have- like many others decided to 仮装する (wear a costume) and there are some good ones tonight! There is a ミイラ (mummy), ゾンビ (zombie), 魔女 (witch), an old fashioned おばけ (ghost) – is that a bed sheet?- not too original then; a 吸血鬼 [or the more updated  ヴァンパイア] (vampire), and finally is that several 骸骨 (skeletons) doing the 骸骨の踊り (skeleton dance) from the 1929 Disney short?!

What sort of party in what sort of 御化け屋敷 (haunted house) did you go to?

Post in Japan

Where to post a letter

So you have a stamp and a letter, now what?

Postbox outside Nabari train station

Like many things in Japan, they are designed to be as simple as possible, but this does not work.

In brief, you have local and non-local mail in red and blue respectively, simple right? Now look closer at the picture.

The red section is for local letters and postcards, yes they are still a thing. The pager has only just become obsolete here. Anyways, if you wanted to send a local non-standard sized letter, firstly it wouldn’t fit in this specific box and secondly it’ll be in the blue section along with international mail.

Post boxes are handy things but just go to a post office, it’ll make life much simpler.

I hope you enjoyed reading and are well (unlike myself this past week),and as always happy exploring!

How2: reading train fare tables

A large complex chart, for the uniformed that is

When I first came to Japan, and before I bought an IC card, calculating the correct train fare seemed like the start of a JLPT- even with the romanji. But it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ll start small with the Iga-tetsudo line:

Train fares for the Iga-tetsudo line

The Iga-tetsudo line like the Yokkaiichi lines are a small service with few stops, so finding the train fare is very simple. Want to get from Iga Kanbe to Uenoshi? That’s ¥370 one way for an adult or ¥190 for a child? Want a return or to go to more than one stop? Buy an all-day ticket (一日フリー乗車券) for ¥740- the same price as a return and the ticket machines are in multiple languages as well!

Now for something more complex, the kintetsu line:

So many places…

The kintetsu is a very large network and the fare map highlights this. Want some advice? Know where you’re going! It sounds basic enough but you have to be aware of train station names that sound the same (nishi Aoyama, and higashi Aoyama are a good example).

Another reason to be careful is if you are not using an IC card, and get the price wrong, you have to waste time at a fare adjustment machine before you may exit a station.

My advice for travelling in Japan is to use an app such as Japan Transit planner, which tells you the fare, train time and fastest journey.

Alternatively buy an IC card, it automatically deducts the train fare from the card and some link with your bank account, so you don’t have to worry about how much is left.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

How2 eat healthy without breaking the bank

Not a millionaire? Don’t worry here’s some advice

Food shopping in Japan can seem expensive at times- no matter where you shop but here’s some advice I have found during my tenue in Japan.

Firstly, buy what you can at drug stores. Drug stores offer a reduced range of groceries but there is no difference in quality. I regularly shop at Cosmos (コスモス) and Kirindo- both drug stores offer fresh and frozen ingredients. I can buy a weeks’ worth of groceries for about 3000 JPY- or 7000 JPY at a supermarket.

Next, don’t forget frozen fruit and veg. At Kirindo, they offer a good range of fresh fruit and veg (I have bought a whole pineapple for 100 JPY) but if you’re not going to use it immediately buy frozen. Frozen fruit and veg cooks and taste the same as fresh but usually its cheaper per portion- very much so in the case of fruit.

This is a strange tip but go Japanese. Imported food is expensive no-matter where you buy it from, and this does include making foreign foods from scratch. Follow the expression: as in Rome, do as the Romans do. Does that mean eat Natto and Umeboshi if you detest them- no. Eat what Japanese produced foods you can- they are much cheaper. You can buy tofu for 30 JPY and soba for 18 JPY- which is the protein and carb component of a meal- you just need your greens and you good to go.

Like the look of that bento in the convenience store- forget about it. I was looking at the bentos recently and most of them were overpriced and have too many calories- there was a special bento for the rugby season with 1200 Kcals for just 600 JPY. If you must eat out- try the のり弁当 (nori bento)- it is usually the right size for a meal and has the right number of calories for people either losing or maintaining (bulking on the other hand, look elsewhere).

The final note I have on this topic is to have a general meal plan at the very least. DO I always know what I am going to eat in the evenings- NO! However, I have enough fresh and frozen ingredients to cover all eventualities and if I get back from work very late, a light snack of a kiwi or 2 is enough before sleep.

Healthy living has become much more mainstream in recent years and ignorance on this topic, in the eyes of many, is no longer inexcusable.

Very last thing (I swear), for vegans or vegetarians living or wanting to live in Japan, as a rule of thumb, forget about eating out. All meals (it seems like) contains some sort of animal product or fish/meat. You could just order rice, but it would have been made in a kitchen with cross-contamination and animal products galore- I cannot think of 1 restaurant in Nabari or Iga that is vegetarian (which together is a good size of Mie).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

EDIT: I have since done further research on this and there is one in Nabari: “Be Happy! Chikyushoku”- I have somewhere new to check out!!!!!!

The plague of Japan: Tobacco

The old cool pastime is an outdated one- everywhere but Japan?

As an ex-smoker, I do struggle with my old daemon- tobacco. I have parted ways, no longer stay in contact and yet it still bugs me.

My fight had been made easier with most train stations on the Kintetsu lines and the Iga-tetsudo lines now being smoke free but there is but one place that does still haunt me- convenience stores.

In Japan, tobacco is sold out in the open- with even special offers and prices at times- showing you just how cheap it is- the cheapest one being just 350 JPY ( around 3 USD)- which never mind being cheap for Japan, it is cheap full stop. Even with the UN tobacco recommendations, Japan still mostly ignores them.

There are smoking areas inside restaurants (separated from non-smoking areas), smoking areas in train cars, in the street, outside convenience stores, outside clinics and hospitals and inside so many businesses- it hard to escape them and it is still socially acceptable but nor as much as drinking (to be looked into later).

However, there have been more laws brought in especially in Tokyo in the run up to the Olympics next year to become more anti-smoking, but this seems to be confined to places a tourist may see.

So, for those who are anti-smoking or have given up, be vigilant- Japan seems like a smoker’s paradise and is still tempting for those who have quit. For smokers, please respect Japan and be aware of other’s opinions.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring


Smoking in Japan

I do not condone smoking, but if you visit and would like to smoke please note the following:

  • You may only smoke in designated areas or face a fine
  • Not all convenience stores have smoking ash trays
  • Some major cities- Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya etc have districts where smoking is prohibited. If you want to smoke, you need to either exit the district or find an indoor one.
  • There are smoking rooms on limited express trains and on the Shinkansen- all other trains are non-smoking.
  • A pocket ashtray is not a free licence to smoke
  • most tourist places including moutains are completely smoke free