Before I moved to Japan for the first time in 2015, I didn’t really like green tea at all. I had heard about the health benefits, but to me, it always tasted quite bitter, and I didn’t know how to sweeten green tea without adding sugar, which would defeat the point of having a healthy drink!
However, shortly after I arrived in Japan I was offered green tea everywhere I went, at work, in restaurants, even whilst I was waiting at the mechanic’s for my car to be repaired. It would have been rude to refuse the tea, so with no other choice, I drank it, and to my surprise, it wasn’t bitter! It turns out the secrets of how to make green tea taste good are pretty simple, it’s all in the brewing process!
Recently, I joined an online green tea time session with Arigato Japan, one of my favorite tour companies who organize AMAZING food tours and virtual experiences. During the hour-long session, I learned so much about green tea, the correct way to brew it, and some awesome pro-travel tips that I can use the next time I go traveling in Japan. I highly recommend booking one of Arigato Japan’s online experiences, you can choose from making Japanese cocktails, or learn all about Japanese food.
Read on to discover what I learned during the green tea time session about how to brew the perfect cup of green tea with flavor at home and other pro-tips from the Japanese tea masters!
If you are planning a trip to Japan then check out my 3-day Kyoto itinerary <a target=_blank href="https://ryokougirl.com/3-day-kyoto-itinerary-a-guide-for-first-time-visitors/" …continue reading
All of Japan has Coming of Age Ceremonies in January, but nowhere has them quite like Kitakyushu.
In Japan, the second Monday of January is a holiday called Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day. To celebrate the start of adulthood, communities hold Coming of Age Ceremonies for residents who have or will be turning 20 in the current school year.
The ceremonies are held at gymnasiums or amphitheaters, usually with the mayor or some other local dignitary making a speech about the opportunities and responsibilities that come with adult life, congratulating the new adults while also reminding them that society looks forward to their great deeds. In keeping with that solemn atmosphere, in most parts of the country attendees show up in suits or kimono of a formal, classically elegant style.
But in Kitakyushu, they do things a little differently.
Yes, Kitakyushu’s new adults roll up their Coming of Age Ceremony in suits and kimono, but these aren’t the understated designs commonly associated with office dress codes and subdued adult social interactions. Instead, the goal at Kitakyushu seems to be trying to out-peacock everyone else in town.
The motivation seems to come from the attendees’ proximity to the borderline between childhood and adulthood. They’re young enough to still enjoy some crazy youthful exuberance, but also old enough that no one can say “no” to their fashion choices.
As with everything in the age of coronavirus, things are a little different this year.
With the holidays over and people returning to their homes after being with family over the New Year, it’s no surprise that coronavirus cases have been spiking recently, especially in Tokyo. Though the numbers are low compared to the U.S. and Europe, the spike was alarming enough to prompt the government to issue a second state of emergency for the city.
This time around the restrictions are much looser than the first lockdown in April, but many organizations are still taking it seriously. Unfortunately, that means that the most popular start-of-the-year event for 20-year-olds in the city, the Coming of Age Ceremonies, are changing form, being postponed, or being cancelled altogether.
Coming of Age Ceremonies celebrate the young adults who are turning 20, which is the age of adulthood in Japan, and typically occur on the second Monday in January. Since it’s generally a formal ceremony filled with speeches by city officials and sometimes performances by local groups (though some places get a little bit wild before and after the event), young women often dress in kimono and get their hair and makeup done, while young men wear suits and ties. It’s also a chance to reunite with your high school classmates and see how everyone’s changed since graduation, which is something a lot of participants look forward to.
This year, however, the ceremonies are looking a little different, since having hundreds of people gathering in a closed-in stadium or auditorium would be a recipe for the rapid spread of COVID-19. Though they had originally made plans to hold their events with precautions in place, many cities within Tokyo have …continue reading
If companies are reducing their number of teachers or closing locations, does that mean that teachers who have been let go don’t have a new job to go to?
With COVID-19 continuing to spread through Japan and both the central and local governments asking people to avoid any non-essential travel, English schools of all varieties have been hit hard by the drop in the number of people coming to take lessons. This has meant that companies have had to let teachers and staff go in order to stay in business.
It is true that there aren’t as many jobs going as there were before, but there definitely are jobs still out there. Just looking at the first page of JobsinJapan.com, you can see that there are many companies out there desperate to find teachers, even using the words “urgent” and “immediate start” in the title. Keep in mind that while some companies may be letting teachers go, there are many teachers who have packed it in and returned to their home country, leaving open positions in their wake. Also, because of government rules changing, some inbound teachers and first timers have been told to stay in their country of origin, leaving some schools desperate for a teacher to replace a new hire on short notice.
While the demand before was largely from English conversation companies looking for teachers, the focus has now switched to teaching kids’ classes. This includes international schools, private schools, public schools, and especially preschools. The ALT market is still strong, maybe the strongest I’ve ever seen due to the travel restrictions, as the board of education contracts must be filled and are not affected as much by market forces.
If you enjoy teaching kids, this is great news for you. If teaching kids isn’t your cup of tea however, …continue reading
If you follow the Chinese zodiac, 2020 was the year of the rat, the first year of a twelve-year cycle and a symbol of new beginnings. Sure enough, the world has changed drastically over the past months, but these “new beginnings” were probably not what we were expecting.
The next in line is the year of the Ox in 2021. Hopefully, to bring us hope and the opportunity to reset our lives for the better. For real this time.
The zodiac calendar
Japan’s old calendar is derived from the Chinese lunar calendar, imported by Buddhist monks around the 6th century. The monthly cycles of the moon helped people keep track of time. The Chinese lunar calendar is a complex classification system based on a long 60-year cycle divided into shorter 12-year cycles. Each year represents an animal, a zodiac sign, and each short cycle by one of the five elements: earth, fire, metal, water and wood.
In Japan, the Zodiac calendar is known as 干支（かんし） (kanshi, also read “eto”), the 12 animals are the 十二支（じゅうにし） (jyuunishi) and the five elements are the 五行（ごぎょう） (gogyou).
Centuries later, in 1872, Japan dropped the Chinese lunar calendar in favor of the Western calendar, thought to be more modern and predictable. Today, people only refer to the Gregorian calendar (and regnal eras) in daily life, but temples and shrines still use the moon to date their traditional events and important festivals. Even if the Chinese lunar calendar isn’t used, the twelve zodiac signs are still very much ingrained in Japanese culture.
The year of the Ox
Unless they’re into astrology, most Japanese folks aren’t necessarily familiar with the cycles and whichever animal year is coming up. But as we slowly edge towards the …continue reading
Japan has some very interesting and fun traditional holidays, but the one I’ve always enjoyed the most is Setsubun.
Usually held on 3 February, festivities can vary from region to region, but often involve dressing up like ogres, throwing beans around the house for good luck, and eating a huge-ass sushi roll loaded with awesome stuff.
▼ Here’s some typical Setsubun family fun.
The reason why these things are done it a little complex but I’ll do my best to give a brief overview. “Setsubun” means “seasonal division” in English and is the day before “Risshun” which is known as the first day of spring.
Depending on where you are in the world, 3 February probably doesn’t feel like spring has sprung yet. That’s because the terms “season” and “spring” are loose approximations of the annual divisions based on the lunisolar calendar Japan inherited from China. There are actually 24 “seasons” in this system, which are actually just equal divisions of the solar cycle.
▼ The 24 are written on the outer rim of this diagram, but please memorize the entire thing as it will be on the final exam.
Nevertheless, Setsubun marks the beginning of the “spring” quadrant of that cycle and was seen as a sort of a “new year’s eve” at the time. As such, customs of cleaning out and making a fresh start took place, one of which involved throwing beans to purge homes of bad luck.
This practice also originated in China, but the exact reason isn’t totally clear. It is said that possibly …continue reading
While Japan is usually the overwork capital of the world, the New Year’s holidays here do offer chance for everyone to just relax.
The cost, however, is that because New Year’s is overwhelmingly a quiet time spent with family (as opposed to the wild parties of the West), most of the nation shuts down to take a break. This means that for several days nothing is open including shops, restaurants and even doctor’s offices.
Avoid the shutdowns though, and you’ll find that Japan is overflowing with awesome, Instagram-worthy traditional decorations, incredible food and unique cultural ceremonies during the holidays.
To enjoy your start of the new year to the fullest, read on to learn more about how Japanese people usher it in with style.
1. Sing along with Kohaku Uta Gassen
Around New Year’s, most people celebrate by gathering with the family and watching a lot of television. Kohaku Uta Gassen, commonly just called Kohaku, is an annual holiday special produced by NHK. Kohaku (紅白) is a Japanese word comprised of the kanji for red and white. During the special, the most popular musical artists from the year split into two teams: men (white team) versus women (red team) and face off in a singing contest.
At the end of the show, the judges and audience vote to decide on the winning team. While it may sound like it’s just good fun, being invited to perform on Kohaku is a huge deal. A lot of Japanese singers believe it to be the highlight of their career. For everyone else, it’s a great way to sit back and wind down for the new year.
<div oo-column="col …continue reading
Another year has flown by, and if you live in Japan, you are most likely to be faced with the two largest annual events overlapping each other — Christmas and New Year — which for the average Japanese family are celebrated in an entirely different way. Below is the step-by-step process of how and why the Japanese celebrate the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one.
Nenmatsu-nenshi, Toshikoshi and Shinnen
What term refers to what? We get you. It can get confusing. So before we jump into the actual traditions, let’s first define the lingo. Nenmatsu-nenshi (年末年始) literally translates into “year-end, year beginning” and describes that time of year when we are busy and stressed, but looking forward to spending time with our loved ones. In terms of dates, it actually covers the very last days of the current year and the first days of the new one. Toshikoshi (年越し), literally “passing the year,” refers to the events and customs that take place at the end of year, while shinnen (新年) simply means “new year” and refers to all festivities taking place before heading back to work on Jan. 4. The official nenmatsu-nenshi break in Japan for most people is between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3. Yes, that’s the most blessed time in the year!
Nenmatsu-nenshi and toshikoshi traditions
Below are some of the most unique and traditionally celebrated New Year’s events in Japan. Whether in Akita or Shimane prefectures, celebrating the holidays here will make you go through at least half of these traditions in one way or another.
1. Nengajo (年賀状)
Starting as early as the beginning of December, Japanese people get their New Year seasonal …continue reading
Come with us and enjoy some of the last bright sparks of 2020’s anime!
A man so dedicated to anime that he got a 20,900 yen (US$199) haircut to look like a Demon Slayer character, our resident otaku reporter, Seiji Nakazawa, is always eager to help confused anime fans find a new (or old) show to pick up. This time of year, when most currently broadcasting series are up to their ninth or even eleventh episode, may seem like an odd time to make a recommendations list; however, this is exactly when most series have either proven themselves to their viewers or petered out on good ideas and animation.
Without further ado, here are the shows Seiji recommends you invest in to take you through the end of 2020!
1. Talentless Nana (Munou na Nana)
This is Seiji’s standout when it comes to interesting anime — while he had some reservations about the character designs and style, the twists and turns in the plot have kept him glued to his seat through every episode. He looks forward to each week it airs, so if you’re in the mood for an entertaining mystery with fantastical elements and an intriguing, multi-faceted lead character, this is definitely worth your time.
2. The Gymnastics Samurai (Taiso Zamurai)
“This one’s a tearjerker,” Seiji warns, “especially if you’re an old dude like me.” He describes it as a story where a washed-up older man finds his stride and makes a big comeback. This series has all the pumped-up determination of …continue reading
Since the 1990s, Tokyo has cultivated an eclectic, colorful, futuristic and occasionally raunchy image. Buoyed by the dot-com bubble, Japan became recognized not only as a world leader in technology, such as fancy cell phones and magnetic trains, but also for its pop culture and fashion. Namely: anime, manga and the wild styles of Tokyo’s subcultures.
The Harajuku fashion scene
One of the key figures to arise was fashion icon, event organizer and musician Sisen Murasaki. Easily recognizable by his outlandish costumes and colorful hair and contacts, DJ Sisen rode the Harajuku craze of the Myspace era and helped popularize Tokyo’s underground scene.
Against the straight-laced and conservative daytime world of Japan, Sisen makes a bold statement. “You can live within a subculture and an underground scene and satisfy your desire to transform,” he says. “You can have the confidence to say, ‘I’m glad to be myself.’”
Heavily influenced by New York’s “Club Kids”—a group of campy and avant-garde artists and dance club personalities of the 1980s and 1990s—Sisen created his own troupe of Tokyo club kids, including entertainers such as Diva Selia, Preta Porco and French-born Adrien le Danois.
Gender, sexuality and the club kids
Like the New York club kids more than a decade before, Tokyo’s alternative club fashion focused not only on being outlandish but also on being gender-subversive. For Sisen, the world of club culture has always been an expression of his evolving queer identity.
Speaking of his childhood, Sisen says: “As I became conscious of myself, I had the feeling, ‘Oh? Maybe I should have been born a girl.’ Even as a child, I prepared …continue reading