As I travel around Japan, especially at this time of year, I seem to almost be assaulted with Christmas, it is inescapable. Just when I thought I would get a break, I’m proven wrong.
The Asunaro is a small train line located in Yokkaichi city, Mie which would be a bus route in any other city. It’s small, cheap and great value for money, it is so much smaller than the Iga tetsudo line but amazingly it has 2 lines.
However Christmas is here as well. Admittedly it was a lovwlth offering but it was so out of place. Yokkaichi is an extreamly Japanese city, even on the train they use ございます(gozaimasu) instead of です(desu) for station names, not even the JR line does that.
Into this mix christmas flows as easily as reading the city’s name: 四日市市 which is easy once you know it (Yokkaichi-shi) but trying to work it out from the Kanji alone is troublesome.
Japan and Christmas are a wonderful match, especially when Japanese culture is added to the mix. Partying, even having a dinner party, is an expected part of any festive celebration but why should the adults get the special drinks- won’t anyone think of the children?
Okay this sounds weird but don’t worry children, the soda industry has your back. Firstly, these drinks are not cheap but they are covered in colorful plastic packaging with Doraimon and other characters. There is also Appletiser, which I do like but is still full of sugar.
People usually buy these drinks for either the Christmas party of for New Year’s eve/day celebrations at an extremely cheep 1000 JPY a drink (or 10 USD).
This section is also brilliant for the non-drinkers (me) wanting a social life- just a little one though.
This is going to be a strange post, but how would you cope if seemingly the entire country operates on a 9-5 or similar time. What if your an early bird, or a tourist?
Firstly, this is something I have noticed across Japan, both in cities and in the country side- whether small green grocers or a national monument; Japan operates on Japan time. When looking at places to visit, you need to look at the closing time extremely carefully as there, as a rule, is a last admittance time and a closing time.
While this makes sense in a practical way- to allow workers to have a life outside of work (let’s leave salary men out of this one), having an entire city operate on this kind of time seems counter-intuitive. Osaka, for example, closes for lack of a better word at either 1700 for attractions or 2200 for most day operating restaurants. While there are certainly things to do an see after this, options are extremely limited.
Another example would be Axtos, the gym. Doors only open (regardless of when it closes) at 1000 and as an early bird this annoys me. Ideally, I would go much earlier at 0715 and complete my workout and be ready to start my day around 0930. What you must do, therefore, is to either take extremely long bike riders in the mornings (which I do), run (I need new shoes first), or start later. The problem with option 3, and taking into account the closing times of other shops in Nabari (smaller shops 1700), you’re suddenly left with less time and a lot of things to do.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Japanese parents are always rushing about and stressing about every little thing?
What does this mean for visitors to an area or tourists? Simply put PPPPPPP or proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance (please insert an expletive beginning with p). If you are planning a holiday, a long break or just a trip to the next city, check your locations either on google maps, or that companies websites- even I have fallen into the trap of “it’ll be open” and occasionally it isn’t.
On the 22 of November Frozen 2 is being released and I hate to say it but it does look good.
Regardless of this, the advertising and promotion has scarcely started but there are hints of its’ coming: case and point- Aeon.
What I love about this promotional stand is that it consists of just cakes and Japanese treats and there is nothing long lasting on sale.
What I enjoy the most is that its’ release seems mostly unknown or more likely is being ignored by my Japanese colleagues that have children.
When looking into the products in more detail, they are contain quite a few artificial ingredients and all are highly processed, high in fats, sugar, and calories. The impression this gives is along the lines of enjoy being lazy while eating all the calories. Nutrition and health are not as important as people buying the products (none of which were being bought).
Perhaps I was being a bit harsh- there are bottles of green tea that also are decorated with Frozen 2 advertisements, along with sweets, chocolate and ice cream- I have yet to see an action figurine prior to release. I guess that is to come and just before Christmas/ New Years’s in Japan (when children receive money to allow them to buy things with called Otoshidama [お年玉] ).
Let’s just hope there is no song which will be repeated for months (although I can still enjoy let it go- when I want to listen to it and not being forced to).
Advent is a christian festival where they count down until Christmas and this idea of counting down to Christmas was made into the advent calendar. Each and every day, you open a card window and enjoy a little sugar rush of delicious chocolate (which is so much better than the advent candle approach where you watch a candle burn).
Traditionally, advent calendars are only found in countries with a strong christian history. Even though it could be argues that Japan has a long history of Christianity (of about 400 years), Japan is mostly secular.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw these advent calendars in Aeon of Disney characters and (even more surprisingly) a traditional Christmas scene.
The product features German, French and English but not Japanese. To ensure that I wasn’t going mad, I asked my Japanese colleague about advent calendars and they gave me a look of confusion and asked what it was (well more I told them what it was).
I have previously reported on this sort of product only being featured in Japan once it had been changed to reflect more of the culture, but this seems to be an complete abnormality in this area. I will need to look into this further, but advent calendars are as strange as I in Japan it seems.
As much as I love living in Japan, there are certain things which bug me at times- an example of this would be the cultural expectation to drink. An example of this would be the expression お神酒上がらぬ神は無い- which means even the gods drink sake (and thus you should too).
However, one of the more insidious plagues is the abundance of litter in Japan- which is a rather un-Japanese thing considering that there is a nationwide recycling and garbage disposal program.
The disposal program, looking at Iga specifically, was started in 1996 and the articles in the local paper explained how to separate garbage and what will be done with the garbage. To be put simply, in Iga, garbage is separated into burnable, non-burnable, paper and cardboard items, plastic waste, and pet-bottles and cans.
This is something even I understand. Additionally, if you refuse to take part, you may be fined- along with the shame aspect. But somehow, even with the amount of resources Japan has invested into recycling and waste management, litter is still an issue.
During my journey “the long walk”, and photographed above, litter was unfortunately a common site even in the most remote of locations. The discover of this, encouraged me to look into this further and I have since discovered that litter is not just common in remote areas but in built up cities as well.
While walking through Iga, cigarette ends are common along with plastic bottles, cans and other recyclable materials. The same can be said about Nabari, Tsu, Nagoya, Osaka etc but with one difference: high traffic areas such as tourist areas are extremely clean and without litter.
It seems as if Japan likes to give the appearance of being clean in small villages and around people’s homes, but a bit further afield, such as in the middle of the country or in non-popular areas in cities, less emphasis is given on its’ importance and thus its’ much more common to see.
Is this something you have experienced while visiting or living in Japan?
An introduction to the world of Japanese treats for only ¥69
When looking for a sweet treat most people look at chocolate, or ice cream, or something else that is usually at least ¥100, but here’s a tip- look at the cheap treats occasionally you come accross a gem.
We’ll start with the gaburi-chew. Thing of a 10 cm high chew andcyou have the taste and the texture of it. It’s a chewy berry flavoured bar and was ¥32, not a bad start.
This product immediately caught my attention with Felix the cat on it and they were ¥9 each so I bought them blindly. They were as packet does say bubble gum, cheap artificial strawberry flavoured straight from my childhood. They are identical to the cheap hubba bubble, the cheap 20p (0.20 GBP) bubble gum and I enjoyed every one.
The game inside is a Japanese classic called あみだくじ(amidakuji). The rules are simple, start at either 1,2,3,4 or 5 and follow the line at each intersection to see if you end up at the strawberry. Be careful, you could end up releasing a snake or a bear etc. Its a bit boring but a bit of fun for kids.
Finally, we have the corn snack which is teriyaki flavoured. With these you must be careful because some of them are just horrible. My favourite so far is the teriyaki one and at just ¥10, I recommend trying multiple to find which ones you prefer.
I have dipped my toe into the world of Japanese snacks, and will do so again soon.
When I was last in Japan 5 years ago as a 留学生 (ryuugakusei or foreign exchange student) in Nagoya, Christmas seemed more like a passing interest- it was something un-Japanese and not really important. Only Daiso had anything christmas related; not anymore.
The Christmas industry in Japan has exploded. Every shop from convenience stores offering food to order, clothes stores with Christmas related items to furniture stores offering decorations.
You cannot even escape it in Aeon. Although they have no current visible christmas products, they are self advertising products to order with Christmas music playing, which is a bit too soon.
Never mind 七五三 (shichigosan, a festival where children go to shrines, post to come) on the 15th, I imagine that Christmas fever will just intensify starting November 1st.
The Japanese will never say it, implications are a different matter
It’s late and I’m just waiting for the train back from work and being slightly lazy, I bought a healthy bento from a convenience store.
I may have had difficulty finding my wallet so I explained in Japanese that’s hidden at the bottom (I was right) and the assistant just chuckled.
She then gave me a fork for a salad, which is normal. I know this was not intended as an insult but it got me thinking.
How do the Japanese show their displeasure at someone? How do they show their displeasure at someone who may not speak Japanese?
One way is the automatic giving of a knife or fork in lieu of chopsticks or giving you water instead of tea when going to a restaurant. These subtle actions are their way to differenciate those accepted or seen to be accepted and those who are not.
There even more subtle gestures, the standing up to get off at the next station extra early when you sit down, the automatic “English no” when you say すみません or excuse me.
There’s an overview of subtle Japanese gestures and there are many more besides.