So the holiday season is upon us. Christmas has come and gone (unless you celebrate on January 1st) and New Years is just around the corner. I thought I would take the chance to talk about Christmas in Japan.
Having lived in western countries my whole life up until this point, the Japanese concept of Christmas is very strange to me. Adjusting to summer Christmas, with barbecues and outdoor cricket, when I moved to Australia was unusual enough for me, but Japan is a whole other ball game. Like Halloween and Valentines Day it’s one of the foreign holidays Japan has adopted and made its own. For me when I think of Christmas I think of waking up early, getting together with family, either immediate or extended, exchanging presents, eating lots of food and playing games. I think of gingerbread, tinsel, fairy lights, Christmas crackers (Bon-bons) bad jokes and even worse Christmas songs to which I know too many of the lyrics. As you can probably imagine Japan is lacking in a lot of these things that make Christmas, for me at least, feel less Christmassy.
For starters, in Japan Christmas isn’t even a holiday. This isn’t really surprising as Japan isn’t a Christian country and so people don’t really celebrate it here. For those who do it’s a little different. Family Christmas is only celebrated by families with children, people don’t really go home to their parents or their grandparents like I imagine most people do back home. For everyone else it’s a couples’ holiday, people go on dates or spend the day at home with their partner eating fried chicken. And I must admit, I still can’t wrap my head around how fried chicken became a Christmas tradition. I believe it started with an ad campaign KFC had saying that this was the American thing to do on Christmas (which of course, it isn’t). Christmas being a predominantly western holiday Japan must have just taken to this idea. I suppose it must have been subverted from the popular tradition of eating turkey on Christmas Day, but as a foreigner the whole thing is still a strange concept. I feel bad for those working at KFC on Christmas here. They also have Christmas cakes here (not fruit cakes, just normal decorated cakes) but overall traditions regarding food here are nothing like the extravagant feasts people like to prepare in Europe and America (or the barbecues we like to have in Australia).
Christmas in Japan has one thing I haven’t really seen before moving here, illuminations. Overseas you can see many people decorate their houses with Christmas lights throughout December. I remember I always loved going through the local neighbourhoods at night, where almost every house was lit up. Japan does this differently through events called illuminations. Instead of neighbourhoods where people decorate their houses, there are areas, like shopping centres and theme parks, where the entire place is lit up with beautiful light displays. I visited one in early December with my host family and it felt so magical, just like I was a child all over again. For me this is the closest thing to capturing the spirit of Christmas that I almost missed this year.
My experience of Christmas was neither a traditional western or Japanese Christmas. Whilst many of my foreign friends returned to their home country for Christmas, I stayed. A few of my other friends did too so we decided to get together at one of our places so that we could have a Christmas this year and not spend the day alone. We brought food and played games and had fun. I had a lovely day spent with lovely people but something about it all just wasn’t the same. There were things that reminded me of Christmas at home but they made me a little homesick. In the end I’m still glad I got to spend the day with people I care about, even if it didn’t feel entirely like Christmas.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday and that the New Year brings as many wonderful opportunities as this year has brought me.
This summer a friend and I went to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea. Now being from Southern California, Disney is not something new for me. however the experience in Tokyo was not what I had expected. You may think that the parks are all the same however they are not, there are many differences that make for a similar but unique experience.
Disney Tokyo is located in Chiba, a Prefecture next to Tokyo. It is about 35 mins from Tokyo Station via the line nicknamed the Disney Line. Upon exiting the train you will see a small shopping center along with one of the Disney hotels. to the left is the monorail station that will take you to Disneyland or Disney Sea. A one day pass will run you 600 yen, a good deal considering a one way ticket is around 210 yen. The monorail is decorated with Disney designs and it even has Mickey head shaped hand rings for those who have to stand for the ride. If you decide to walk to Disney Tokyo it is about a 5min walk to the ticket gate. Along the way there was a giant Disney store with quite a lot of merchandise so that people can enter Disney Tokyo in style. There is also a nice bridge that you have to walk across to reach the gates. The bridge has a few statues of various Disney characters making it a good picture spot. When we entered the park the view of the castle was right in front of us as we walked through the bazaar located just inside the gate.
To the left of the bazaar is Adventure Land where Pirates of the Caribbean is, amongst other rides. We rode Pirates of the Caribbean and found that there is a restaurant that seats people in a garden that is located inside the ride it self. Upon further research (being told at the door we couldn’t eat there) we were told that a reservation is necessary for this restaurant. After some window shopping we went to Western Land where we saw the Lilo and Stitch show which was fun and included a very good Stitch animatronic doll. We also rode the River Cruise Safari which is a nice and relaxing boat ride that reminded me of the ride in Disneyland back in Anaheim, California. walking down the street we noticed various characters walking the park in their respective sections. This happens at times indicated in the daily schedule section in the map at the front gate. Continuing down the park was Critter Country where the ride with the longest wait time was Splash Mountain. As stated earlier we went in the summer so with temperatures of 30ºC plus it is no surprise there was a 110min wait. For your information bring a towel, or buy one with your favorite character on it like we did, because you will get very wet.
We then went to get food as we were very hungry from the rides and just taking in the atmosphere at the park. Having been turned down at the Pirates Restaurant we settled for a food stall with some tables and were we ever glad we did. Fantasyland has a pizza spot called Captain Hook’s Galley which featured a summer special pizza with chicken and summer veggies. This was honestly one of the best meals I have ever had at any Disney park. Peter Pan’s Flight was next because I mean Peter Pan, duh! This is one of my all time favorite rides and really does remind me of watching the movie as a child. Alice’s Tea Cups and the Castle Carrousel were next at Fantasyland and after that more window shopping. We headed past Toontown to Tomorrowland, home of Star Tours. Star Tours is a 4D ride in which you fly in a spaceship fleeing from the republic in a spaceship this ride has been updated to show the characters from the new Star Wars, as well as the older ones, and is a must for any fan. The last ride of the day was Space Mountain, the fastest ride at Disneyland. This rollercoaster-esque ride has both speed and turns all in a room illuminated only with small lights that give you the feel that you are in deep space, far away from the stars. It was well worth the 80 min. wait.
One of the most surprising thing was how different the parks were. The price for example is a huge difference here. In California a one day ticket runs about the same cost as a three day pass here is about 17000 yen or around 170USD (a one day Disneyland pass in the US is around 150USD, or 15000 yen). In order to get the most from the Disney Tokyo Experience it is best to get a three day pass at least. Food also cost significantly less with a limited summer only boba drink being 380 yen and pizza combos only being 780 yen as compared to Disneyland 15USD (approx. 1500 yen) average food price. Some other differences include wait times in line. Most of the rides we got on had lines of less then 20 min. wait and only two rides went past 50 mins. This is unheard of at Disneyland in the US, with even fastpass wait times often being over an hour. Also in Disney Tokyo every popcorn stall has a different flavor of popcorn ranging from curry to chocolate and even soy sauce, all were very delicious. Over all I was pleasantly surprised by this park and Disney Sea (which I will write a post on soon) and love going back to see what I have missed my previous times there. I hope this at least gives you all a feel for the park and that you will be able to someday enjoy it first hand. Until next time thank you and good night.
For someone who moved to a new country but 3 months ago I feel I am quite well adjusted. I didn’t experience as much of a culture shock as lots of people do. I credit this to the fact that I spent 5 years taking lessons in Japanese language and culture prior to my move. Within the first week I had gotten used to the city, the trains, the food (and eating with chopsticks) and speaking in Japanese (though not well) on a daily basis. It may seem silly but I’m kind of proud of that. But like all new experiences I did have a few surprises along the way which I thought I would share. So here are a bunch of things, small and large, that surprised me since moving here divided into neat little categories for your convenience.
Tokyo is a very pedestrian city. There are people walking everywhere and comparatively few cars. In the suburbs you may find that you almost never see cars on certain streets, to the point where you forget they are roads at all and not just really wide footpaths. When a car does come through it can be quite surprising. This is all very new to me, particularly in such a busy city. Apart from the large amount of pedestrians, there are many cyclists on the footpaths and roads also. Often I feel I see more bikes around than people. Almost everyone seems to own a bike here. Not only this but it doesn’t seem to be a legal requirement to wear a helmet like in other countries. Many of the cars on the roads are very square in appearance, like little cardboard boxes on the roads. This is a style of car I have rarely seen in my lifetime before moving and now I see them everywhere. Another thing I have seen before is passengers in the back seats of cars not wearing seat belts. As I’m sure you can guess I was completely shocked by this. I must also add that apart from being obviously extremely dangerous it is completely illegal. I did some research on this and it wasn’t always the case, in fact, only in 2008 was it made a legal requirement for back-seat passengers to wear seat belts. Even so, as it is difficult to enforce there are many people (often children) who still don’t abide by this law.
Most people know that the Japanese eat raw food and that you can find a bunch of strange food items for sale here. I was expecting that so I wasn’t really surprised by this. There definitely were some things I was surprised by though. For starters, fresh fruit here is very expensive here and almost everyone I’ve spoken to here agrees, including the Japanese, neither my friends or I quite seem to know why though. Anther thing that really surprised me was that with most fruit, people will remove the skin before eating it. This includes everything from apples to places and even grapes. On the topic of grapes, the grapes here taste completely different from the grapes back home. In Australia we have red grapes and green grapes and they taste very similar. In Japan we have large dark coloured grapes called kyohou which taste like red wine. The other type I have seen here are small and round and taste exactly like the grape flavour used in lollies and drinks. I never knew when that flavour came from before as it tastes nothing like the grapes I had tried before. But it’s true, it’s not like strawberry flavour or orange flavour for example. Grape flavour really tastes like these grapes. Other things about food that really surprised me are the abundance of raw egg and things like offal. In Australia offal is around but it isn’t very popular and raw egg in foods is a very foreign concept. Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most is that the Japanese eat gristle. You know, the little pieces of cartilage that we would cut off our meat and avoid. I have seen that served here as its own dish and out of all the weird things I have seen this is the one in particular I cannot fathom. I have tried it but I really don’t understand it at all. Each to their own I suppose.
Health care and emergency services:
Shortly after arriving in Japan, I went to the doctor’s clinic to get a follow up prescription for a medication I was already taking he looked at me strangely and told me that not a single dose existed in the entire country. A medication that my med-student friend assured me is very commonly prescribed. This is perhaps one of the most perplexing things I have experienced as never in my life before this point has a doctor not been able to help me in any way what so ever. This is, of course, was not his fault however it did take me quite by surprise. Another thing different about the health care system is that some pharmacies only sell over-the-counter drugs. If you want to get a prescription filled you have to go to a certain ones. Another thing that surprised me is that the word for hospital (byouin) is used for everything from small clinics to actual hospitals and I honestly wonder how this doesn’t confuse people. It certainly confused me. On the topic of hospitals, I hear sirens all the time. I realise that I live in a big city with a large population but even so, the amount of emergency service vehicles I hear go past still seems to be more than it reasonably should. Despite Tokyo being a very safe city I do sometimes feel concerned about the amount of sirens I hear. Finally, Japan has 2 emergency numbers, 119 for ambulance and firefighters and 110 for police. It’s a small thing but it was still something I did not expect.
I had to bring this up because there are some things you need to know if you travel to Japan. Often public bathroom have no soap and/or hand dryers. Because of this it is good to always carry hand sanitiser and a small hand towel with you. Another thing to note, it is something I’m not sure I will ever get used to, is that there are lots of old fashioned toilets in women’s public bathrooms. The ones that are pretty much just holes in the ground. If, like me, using these is not up your alley be careful before you enter a cubicle. All of these things I actually knew about before moving to Japan but I was surprised at how frequent they actually were.
Now for everything else. Firstly, I knew Japan would be convenient but I had no idea how much so (but I’ve already written a full blog on that). Secondly, whilst I expected Japan’s drinking culture I did not expect it’s smoking or gambling culture. In Japan lots of people smoke and it’s still ok to smoke in a lot of public places, including inside buildings. I’ve probably done more passive smoking in the last few months than I have in the past few years prior to moving. If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s cigarettes. In the case of gambling, I see pachinko (Japanese gambling machines) and slot places everywhere. Even some arcades have machines that are essentially gambling games without the name. Other things I was surprised to see, or rather not see, were common household machines such as ovens and clothes dryers. These are apparently are quite uncommon and most people live without them. The rubbish system can take some getting used to as well. Everything is separated between burnables and different types of recyclables, and there are almost no bins in public but the streets are perfectly clean. Perhaps the most surprising thing though is that for a country seemingly concerned with the state of the environment, everything is over-packaged and individually wrapped. You want a piece of fruit? That will be triple wrapped, boxed and placed in a plastic bag for you (unless you are in a super-market where you have to bag your own shopping). Which begs the question. Why? To me this all seems rather unnecessary. Other things I don’t understand include (but are not exclusive to) the amount of women exclusive deals in restaurants, cinemas etc., why the trains stop so early in the night despite the party culture and the fact that the left handed-taboo still exists here.
Un-expect the expected:
My final point is about preconceptions. For example, I was told when taking food from a shared platter it was culturally appropriate to use the reverse end of my chopsticks rather than the end you eat with. When I tried this I was laughed at and quickly corrected. It turns out that is a very strange thing to do here. Another thing I was told was to expect a lot of stares and even for people to ask for pictures because of my foreign appearance. The closest thing I have had to serious pointing or stares was when a child pointed to me and said ‘look mum, it’s kitty’ )as I was wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt). My point is, of course there are some cultural things that you should learn if you ever wish to come to Japan. But don’t make too many assumptions about what is true and what is not. Come here, learn, and form your own conclusions. No matter how well you prepare there will be surprises along the way and that’s half the fun.
Although this is not a common topic between individuals, it is an important part of living. No matter how much you dodge it, laundry is one of those chores that will eventually have to be completed. Laundry in Japan is much like most other places except for one thing; the dryer. In the United States most areas of living have a washer and dryer unfortunately in Japan there is less space so there might not be room for both. For these situations there are washers that have built in dryers to save space. These washer/dryer combos pose the issue of not actually drying clothes. As someone that came from the United States it is foreign to me that the dryers in most apartments and houses I have seen are non existent or exist as a setting on the washer itself. The idea of this, while very interesting and intriguing, does not work as intended. In most cases it seems that the “dryer” only spin dries and does not add heat. The result is that the clothes just don’t dry they end up moist and needing to be hung anyway. In some cases even setting the drying mode for as long as 3 hours does not leave the clothes dry.
In Tokyo this does not seem to be an issue but rather nothing more than the normal way of life. Walking across Tokyo and it is easy to see that the residents seem to just hang all their laundry outside before starting their day. Allowing their clothes to dry throughout the day. Unfortunately this becomes problematic during typhoon season or during rain storms. The only solution that seems to be available for this dilemma is to hang dry your clothes. There are said to be aides to this in the form of machines. These look like a small air conditioner that can be placed under your clothes and will blow air directly at the clothes to dry them. Sadly this has its own set of issues noticeably the space needed inside in order to hang clothes, and the amount of time it takes to dry the clothes. Nonetheless this seems to be the best answer for this dilemma, as I have been told by the few Japanese people I have been able to speak with.
When asking other foreign students about laundry on the other hand I got mostly the same response; “Laundry is the same, and the machine is easy to use, but there are no dryers.” This Issue seems common among most students but there is a small amount of students in share houses that have a pay for use of a dryer. These cases are few and far between, based on a study of around 30 students only 2 students had actual dryers both being a communal machine and pay for use. Another important note is that there is a really severe lack of laundromats here. In the United States we have laundromats around towns for the public but it seems like in Japan or at least in Tokyo that there are only public dry cleaners and not laundromats. When this is added to the fact that Tokyo tends to have unpredictable weather patterns, where rain can appear even on the sunniest of days without warning, making it difficult to consistently complete laundry.
In the land where the best video games are made and electronics are all the craze, It might just be a matter of time until a better drying solution is found. We live in a world where the computers at home are crammed into a device the size of your hand yet we still have trouble getting clothes dry in a reasonable amount of time. Perhaps the solution is already here and we just haven’t seen it or heard about it. Perhaps it is something being worked on as I write this blog. The answers to this are unknown to me and remain questions. However in order to achieve the answers to this, we must learn to ask. How is your experience with laundry in Japan?
I am an avid Gundam fan. I thought that at least one entry to this website should involve some sort of evangelizing of the Gundam franchise, so, I decided to write about Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba.
First, let’s back up. Gundam is a franchise of anime, movies, manga, video games, and plastic model kits—dating back to 1979. Gundams, and other mecha in the series, are large humanoid robots that can be piloted in sea, air, ground, and outer space within their respective fictional histories. Gundam is a very large franchise, and has been airing almost continuously since it’s introduction with Mobile Suit Gundam, the original anime, in 1979. Now that you know what Gundam is, let’s continue.
Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba is a sort of a Mecha…Mecca. Its most prominent feature is the gigantic, life-size Gundam RX-78-2 statue from the original anime. This statue is sort of a living installment, as it occasionally gets upgraded and moved around to different places. It is also important to note that the Gundam statue lights up, moves, and has a projection video show with sound and audio that you can watch when you stand out in front of it.
Gundam Front itself is actually inside of Diver City mall, near Pallet Town and the gigantic Ferris wheel, Daikanransha. You can’t miss both the Ferris wheel and the Gundam statue. Inside, several floors up, features a Gundam Shop, where you can buy all manner of items, most notably exclusive Gundam Front model kits of figures from the series. Next, there is a clothing shop called Strict-G which features high-end fashionable clothes with a Gundam theme. The clothes and accessories are very cool, but quite expensive.
The main area of Gundam Front is a museum-like exhibition center which features life-size exhibits of Gundams, Fighter Jets, and many other amazing samples of the enormous Gundam franchise (and it, unfortunately, bans photography.) My favorite room, the Gunpla exhibit, features one copy of nearly every single Gundam plastic model figure every made, and additionally it exhibits custom models from famous modelers and celebrities. The line-up of figures changes throughout the year, so if you’re a fan of plastic models, toys, or any kind of tiny cool doodads, you should check this out.
The Gundam statue out front is free to walk up to and view, and it is Gundam Cafe adjacent. Gundam Front itself only charges for the museum portion of the floor, and additionally offers a paid course in how to build a model and how they are made. If you’d like to buy something Gundam, you have the option of buying it out front next to the giant Gundam, or, if their selection isn’t big enough, go inside of Gundam Front and you’ll find the full-size gift shop that contains all of the limited edition stuff as well as a ton of regular Gundam merchandise. If both your pockets and your love for Gundam are deep, Strict-G has some fashionably nerdy attire and accessories that look good and don’t scream “I’M AN OTAKU PLEASE STEP TO THE LEFT.”
Fortunately for us English-speakers, their site provides a guide in English to score early tickets and explains the exhibits and prices. If you’d like to see the place for yourself, go ahead and head to http://gundamfront-tokyo.com/ and figure out your trip.
“Who will survive?”