Category Archives: EDUCATION

Rethinking the Idea That “Japanese People Can’t Speak English”

The idea that “Japanese people can’t speak English” is a common belief held by many people. There are numerous articles written by foreigners living in Japan that attempt to explain why Japanese people are terrible at speaking English. Japanese people have also produced books and articles on the matter. Nonetheless, in both the United States and Japan, I have met Japanese people who are capable of carrying out conversations in English. However, it’s common for these people to insist that they “can’t speak English” even as they are having a conversation in English. For many Japanese ESL speakers, “can’t speak English” is more of an attitude towards English than a measure of language proficiency. Where does this idea come from? What does it mean to be able to communicate in English? Can we conceive of a way of thinking about communication that allows Japanese ESL speakers to feel that they can speak English?

Anxieties about Pronunciation and Other Mistakes

ESL speakers in Japan tend to have fairly high levels of anxiety about their English pronunciation. There are a number of sounds in English that don’t exist in Japanese, so it is understandable that it might require some effort for Japanese ESL learners to produce them. However, having difficulty with a handful of English sounds is far from the sole source of anxiety that Japanese ESL speakers have about making pronunciation mistakes. ESL learners in Japan often study in competitive environments where there is a sense of shame attached to making mistakes. The fear of making mistakes in front of peers is so strong that some Japanese ESL speakers report feeling more comfortable speaking English with native English speakers than other Japanese people. They feel as if their accent and any mistakes they make are being judged more harshly by …continue reading


English ad in Japan has some seeing a command to stay infected with coronavirus this Christmas

Department store chain wants to show concern for shoppers’ mental wellbeing, but some see a message of doom for their physical health.

It’s been a tough week for well-meaning department store ads in Japan. First there was Takashimaya’s attempt to promote Kyoto as a beacon of hope in these troubled times, which ended up sounding to many people like we all need to band together and stop the city’s diabolical plans.

Now comes a different ad campaign from rival department store group Seibu Sogo, whose yuletide message doesn’t seem to have hit its intended mark with all who’ve seen it. Take a look at the video below, in which Seibu Sogo suggests a number of ways to keep your spirits up during the 2020 Christmas season, and see if you can spot why it’s raising some eyebrows.

In just about any other year, the ad’s boldly proclaimed tagline, “Stay positive,” would be seen as straightforward encouragement to remember to look on the bright side of things and be thankful for all the little sources of happiness you’ve been blessed with. However, with the ad coming in the middle of a global pandemic, where many people’s inner monologues consist of bouncing back and forth between the questions “Am I/my family/my friends going to get sick?” and “Wait…are we already sick but just don’t know it yet?”, some people’s immediate interpretation of the word “positive” isn’t in the sense of “happy,” but “infected,” making it seem like Seibu Sogo is saying “Make sure that your COVID-19 infection lasts through the holidays!”


— 常磐 (@cetus03) November 12, 2020

It’s probably not helping that the Stay Positive print poster shows two friends giving each other hugs with extremely extended arms, standing so far apart that they’re not even …continue reading


I AM Speaking!

We have been taught not to speak while others are talking at home and school. It is disrespectful to (無礼な bureina) talk while someone else is talking. However, when you grow up to become a politician, you throw that manner out of the window. Have you watched the broadcasting of the Japanese parliament (国会 kokkai)? I cannot help but feel so embarrassed by the low quality of heckling (ヤジ yaji). It says that “heckling is a specialty of parliament and it should be enjoyed.” Well, clever mockery can be a joy. But most heckling in the Japanese parliament is bullying.

Here is an example –

An opposing party (野党 yatou) is speaking about a law that requires both a husband and wife to have the same last name, and that the law discourages some women from getting married. Then a female member of parliament (国会議員 kokkai giin) interrupted by shouting – “then don’t get married! (結婚するkekkonsuru)”

This blog is not about politics (政治 seiji). So let’s go back to the main subject. The fact that the Japanese are taught not to speak while others are talking is one of the reasons why we tend to be very quiet during a class, conference, and during discussions. Coupled with our desire to avoid embarrassment by making a mistake, or not to be regarded as a self-promoting attention seeker, we tend to avoid speaking out (遠慮なく話す enryonaku hanasu). Then we mingle with other people from other countries, and we are shocked and impressed at the same time (同時に doujini) – how could s/he speak with so many mistakes! Often when a teacher notices us not engaging, the teacher calls on us to answer. While we are struggling to make a grammatically correct sentence, our classmates start …continue reading


What’s the best way to close the gender gap in Japan? Japanese women weigh in

The top answer will not surprise you at all. Japan–like many nations–has a number of sociological issues that need addressing, and one of the big ones is the gender gap. Though we’re well into the twenty-first century and we’ve come a long way since the twentieth, there are still some very persistent social norms in […]

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Dating Apps In Japan For 2020: What’s Worth It And What’s Not?

Best dating apps: Tinder

So you’ve moved to Japan hopeful that the dating scene here will be ah-mazing and full of new excitement. You think you’ll find the perfect Japanese man for you right away and things will lead to a happy ending. Or just have some fun for a while. While that’s a great mindset to have, it’s time to get real. Most foreign women living in Japan that want a serious relationship need to put in more legwork than they might otherwise overseas. Shyness combined with language and cultural barriers plus the not-so-little matter of a global pandemic make dating an even more stressful situation than it typically is.

But luckily, we live in an era where you can find anything online—even relationships. A quick search online will show you dozens of different deai-kei (出会い系 online dating) apps, but how do you know what will help you find who or what you’re looking for?

Having been there, done that, I decided to do a quick poll of my foreign friends to find out what apps or sites worked best for them and what didn’t. 15 international women living in Japan gave the original rankings out of five stars when this article was first published in 2017, and five of that same group helped to update this ranking for the dating scene in 2020. It’s up to you whether to swipe right or left!

1. Tinder

One that doesn’t need an introduction. While most people are “just looking” on Tinder, if you’re actively trying, you can not only meet people to date, but new friends, drinking buddies, networkers and activity mates. I found a whole group of men and women to check out summer festivals with, so I can speak from experience when I say that Tinder isn’t just …continue reading


Japan’s child-eating ogres prepare COVID-19 preventative measures for upcoming New Year’s Eve

Unfortunately, kids in northern Japan don’t get a pass this year from the UNESCO-recognized, fearsome namahage. Japan is host to a variety of traditions and rituals, some which are hundreds of years old or which have made a recent comeback. However, with the impact of COVID-19 this year, several traditional Japanese festivals and customs have […]

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Educating, Empowering And Embracing One’s Half-Japanese Heritage

Nina Cataldo

Savvy Tokyo sat down with Nina Cataldo to find out more about the group, why it is important to her, and how it serves its community.

Tell us a little about Hafu Ladies.

We have three pillars: to educate, to empower, and to embrace. Members typically have a connection to Japan in a racial or ethnic sense, but we also have members who are culturally Japanese. A third are in the United States and almost half are 25-34 years old, but we try to make it a diverse community where anyone with our shared heritage can come together.

Quite a few members tell me it is a community where they are understood. They never felt like they were allowed to be Japanese because they didn’t speak the language. Realizing they were accepted no matter their language was a turning point. But you don’t have to be struggling with your identity to benefit from the community. Members have become great friends: a global community and sisterhood that count on each other.

I wanted to create a safe community for hafu women to discuss things—that could be more than just a space to find the next social gathering

How and why did you start Hafu Ladies?

There were about 20 hafu Facebook communities, but none focusing on women. I wanted to create a safe community for hafu women to discuss things—that could be more than just a space to find the next social gathering. I asked some half-Japanese friends about the idea who said it sounded awesome. Hafu Ladies started with those six members in a private Facebook group.

Historically, there has been debate on the word hafu. How did you decide on the name Hafu Ladies?

Most times I know of, it has been Western parents who have been …continue reading


Japanese ministers call for reform of company hiring practices that focus on new graduates

With jobs getting harder to find, it’s important that more people have the chance to be hired. Japan has a number of unique business practices, but one of the most controversial, even within Japan, is the practice of reserving specific job openings for new college graduates. While this is a great idea in theory, as […]

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Kanji Cheat Sheet: Applying for Part-Time Jobs

Source: Gaijin Pot
GaijinPot Jobs Study

In 2019, of the 56.6 million active workers in Japan, 38% were categorized as part-time, self-employed or freelance irregular employees. When I first came to Japan and looked for part-time jobs, I was amazed at the offers I found. It seemed like I could get a job doing anything I wanted: from a fashion store or hair salon staff to a fitness instructor assistant or even an animal caregiver at the zoo.

However, just like an English newspaper’s “Help Wanted” section, I’ve encountered several keywords made of only two or three kanji that hardly translate well using Google.

If you’re struggling to read a part-time job offer in Japan, our new kanji cheat sheet can be your Rosetta Stone to deciphering the lingo.

What is an arubaito?

The Japanese word アルバイト (arbaito), for a part-time job, comes from the German word “arbeit” and simply means “job” or “work.” The shortened version, バイト (baito), is more commonly used nowadays.

On average, 65% of Japanese teenagers work part-time jobs, whether for the experience or to earn money for university. They have to be careful, though: those under the age of 18 are not allowed to work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Another term, パート (paato), also means “part-time job.” However, it usually refers to jobs targeted at homemakers as they typically start mid-morning and end around noon or early afternoon so workers can take care of their kids after school.

Not sure what to do about the taxes with your new part-time job? Check our full guide on filing taxes in Japan.

English Japanese Romaji
Part-time job アルバイト/バイト/パート Arubaito / baito
Short term contract 短期 tanki
Flexible shift シフト自由 Shifuto jiyuu
Weekdays/weekends only OK 平日/週末のみOK Hei jitsu/ shuumatsu nomi OK

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