Is the fate of Japan’s beloved red little stamp sealed? Japanese society could soon ditch the hanko (seal for signatures) requirement. The government has been discouraging the practice in replace of the unstoppable progress of digitalization.
But not every company is ready to ditch the hanko. It’s still used for standard business etiquette in Japan. Particularly in the financial sector, where big firms have their own unique bowing seal (おじぎ印（いん）).
When a document goes down “the ladder,” it requires approval from multiple departments. Signatories tilt their stamps to the left of their bosses’ stamps as if they were bowing. Banking institutions like Mizuho deeply care for hierarchy, and the practice is taught to new employees.
Here’s a funny illustration from @iwanttobejinrui parodying the bowing seal practice.
From right to left, the stamps of the CEO (社長（しゃちょ）), the managing director (常務（じょうむ）), the department manager (部長（ぶちょう）), the section manager (課長（かちょう）) and the team manager (係長（かかりちょう）), whose (exaggerated) stamp does a 180° as if practicing judo on his superior!
For most folks in Japan, the bowing seal custom is a ridiculous excess of courtesy. Traditional Japanese etiquette actually dictates the opposite. A seal should be stamped straight and as harmonious as possible. A titled stamp is almost an insult to seal manufacturers, but every industry has its quirks!
How to bow in Japan?
We have briefly covered Japan’s bowing etiquette in our Japanese job interview guide. While you may never have to tilt your hanko or use one at all, bowing is taken seriously. So here are …continue reading
Cute clothing for petites that doesn’t need alterations? We’re all for it.
When it comes to non-traditional body types in Japan, it can be hard to get into fashion. But in recent years, fashion brands have been making an effort to be more inclusive, like PUNYUS for plus-sizes and shoes that make salarymen appear taller. Japanese clothing brand Heather wanted to help solve the woes of particularly short people in Japan – hems that are too long, tops that are too baggy, drowning in fabric, and more.
So after surveying their customers on Clubhouse, Heather decided to produce a line made specifically for petites in Japan that are around 150 centimeters (4 feet and 9 inches) called Heather mini. The line has eight items right now: overalls, two styles of pants, a dress, a long shirt, a button-up shirt, a T-shirt, and a tank top.
The Heather mini overalls come in pink and black and are available in sizes XXS and S for 7,150 yen (US$65.). They fit loosely around your waist and hips like normal overalls do, but the hem of these won’t be too long for the wearer.
▼ Since it’s shaped specifically for petites, it won’t look overly baggy or large in the chest area.
As for work attire, Heather mini has some slitted slacks in three colors – beige, gray, and black – to pair with your work or semi-formal shirts. And the best part – you don’t need to get the hem raised! You can grab a pair in XXS or S for 6,600 yen.
▼ You probably won’t even need a belt with this perfect fit!
In Japan, as with anywhere else, there are social rules of conduct that would benefit you to follow. The only thing is, the Japanese tend to be a little shy when confronting people about their behavior. In other words, you may never know that you are offending people, as it is possible that no one will tell you. So, here are the top five etiquette mistakes to avoid when in Japan.
Eating or drinking on trains
Generally speaking, people don’t eat while walking on the street or in crowded commuter trains. It’s not necessarily rude, but it does look a little shabby and might annoy other people.
However, on the shinkansen (bullet trains) and on planes where food is served, it’s fine to consume your own food and drinks.
Speaking in a loud voice on trains
Another thing that annoys people is speaking in a loud voice on trains and other public transportation. Using your phone on a train is a definite no-no. It’s common for people to get off at the next stop to take a call rather than face the collective ire of their fellow commuters.
Japanese people tend to be less vocal and expressive when in public compared with some of their western counterparts, so please keep it down. Yes, I’m talking to you, you loud foreigner.
Public displays of affection
Although this is changing with the younger generation, the Japanese tend to be a little conservative when it comes to physical contact or displaying affection in public.
Anime theme song deals with the solitude that can come with learning to care for yourself.
Released in 1999, Utada Hikaru’s major debut, First Love, remains the best-selling album of all time in Japan. The 38-year-old artist has never been one to rest on her laurels, and she’s just released her latest creation, the music video for her song “Pink Love.”
Utada’s last two music videos, by nature of being filmed at the height of the pandemic, featured no one on camera other than the vocalist herself, save a few people in the distant background of an outdoor scene. In stark contrast, “Pink Blood’s” video shows her in the middle of a writhing mass of darkly clothed humanity.
The experience doesn’t really look like a pleasant one, though, and several other shots are of Utada in solitude, including a repeating motif where she’s part of the earth itself, either emerging from or receding into the ground.
The mixture of music and lyrics also reflect the sense of melancholy that can accompany necessary emotional self-reliance. “Being cared for by someone who doesn’t understand my value won’t help me,” she sings, along with “It hurts when you realize that you’re the only one who can heal yourself.”
▼ Though at one point a bunch of horses show up to keep her company for a while.
The bittersweet atmosphere is especially fitting in light of “Pink Blood” also being the opening theme for currently airing anime “To Your Eternity,” the story of an immortal being …continue reading
Many Japanese learners have a love/hate relationship with kanji. there are too many readings, they look too similar to other characters or are just really hard to write neatly—especially on government forms. One way to improve your kanji writing, as well as learn a new skill or perhaps even find a surprising hidden talent of your own, is to try shodo (Japanese calligraphy).
What is shodo?
Shodo, or “the way of writing,” quite literally means calligraphy in Japanese. Originally brought to Japan from China between the 1st and 5th centuries, it developed over the years into a unique system of writing that includes the hiragana and katakana of today. There’s even a Japanese Calligraphy Association where members can take part in and share the joys of one of Japan’s oldest art forms.
In terms of modern calligraphy, there are three main styles of writing. The easiest is called kaisho, or block style lettering. Next is gyosho, or semi-cursive and, finally, sosho, or the cursive style. Sosho is the most difficult to master, taking casual calligraphers years, sometimes decades to fully master.
For those interested in a more in-depth history of this writing system, I strongly encourage you to check out the entry on it at Beyond Calligraphy. If you have six minutes to spare, this video from the University of Houston System Coursera course explains a bit of the history and development of different Japanese scripts up to the Edo era.
The tools you need
As shodo is a traditional art form, it has this image of being an incredibly difficult or expensive hobby to have — and it is, if you’ve been at it for several years and have advanced to a high level of skill.
Tokyo Jihen pays homage to multiple facets of traditional Japanese culture in this breathtaking new music video.
Tokyo Jihen, also known as Tokyo Incidents in English, was formed in 2003 by acclaimed singer-songwriter Sheena Ringo, who’s known for her raw and dynamic vocals. After disbanding in 2012, the band reunited in early 2020 and has since released a string of promotional singles and a new EP. An upcoming sixth studio album titled “Music” (音楽) is slated for release on June 9, 2021 and will be their first full-length album in a decade.
Tokyo Jihen’s latest promotional single, “Awakening (Ryokushu [緑酒]),” was released back on March 30 but the accompanying music video wasn’t uploaded to YouTube until more recently. The title refers to a green or sweet wine of good quality. Directed by Yuichi Kodama, who handles almost all of Tokyo Jihen’s music videos and live videos at concerts, the video immediately garnered praise on the Japanese Internet for its lush visuals showcasing many aspects of traditional Japanese culture and aesthetics.
▼ “Awakening (Rokushu)”
The video opens with Sheena entering a traditional Japanese house while busy with preparations for a gathering. The other four band members each arrive in turn donning western-style suits and hats reminiscent of an older era, taking time to admire the gardens and koi pond, and relax on the balcony as well. Intentionally framed shots of katana, bonsai, hanging picture scrolls, temari (folk hand balls), and more cultural artifacts are also interspersed throughout the cuts.
▼ Even small details, such as one band member carefully arranging his shoes to point towards the door, are subtle but important nods to Japanese etiquette.
So far so good, as no one has mysteriously died since the renovation finished.
Taira no Masakado did not, by any means, have a peaceful life. The 10th-century samurai went to war with his uncle over a woman and/or land they both coveted, and eventually advanced from fighting family members to fighting the emperor, leading a rebellion and seizing control of Hitachi, Shimotsuke, and Kozuke Provinces (roughly corresponding to Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures today).
In the end, the rebellion was put down and Masakado beheaded, but he wasn’t about to let something as mundane as a little decapitation cool his blazing fury. More than a thousand years after his death in 940, Masakado remains Japan’s angriest spirit, with his most famous posthumous display of wrath being the 14 people who died in a span of five years inside the government building built on the same plot of land as Masakado’s grave in Tokyo’s Otemachi neighborhood in the 1920s (actually, the grave is just for his head, to make things extra creepy).
Japanese Twitter user Kikuchiyo (@kikuchiyo_0518), who’s been tracking the renovation’s progression, stopped by the new gravesite during Japan’s Golden Week spring vacation period, and found it to have a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere. …continue reading
When opportunity knocked, Hitomi Nomura embarked on a two-year journey to become skilled in the traditional art of kilt-making, in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, before returning to her native Gifu to launch her business, Handmadekilts.com.
Today, she is a handmade kilt and tartan skirt maker, driven by a desire to bring a piece of Scottish culture to Japan. Savvy Tokyo spoke to her to find out how and why.
How did you get into kiltmaking?
I traveled the U.K. in summer 2015—Glasgow, Liverpool, London. Everything fascinated me and I saw a lot of people enjoying life. At the time I was working in the customer service department for an IT company.
Living in Tokyo was full of stress for me and I became curious about life in Scotland because people looked so happy.
After my trip, I would go to the library after work to research the history, culture and lifestyle of the U.K. I learned that each family in Scotland has a tartan, which I thought was so cool. I fell in love with Scotland and wanted to learn more about tartan.
How did you make that happen?
I was going through a tough time in 2017, so my best friend suggested I go to the U.K. on a working holiday visa but I didn’t get it, so I went to Ireland to learn English. While I was there I traveled around Scotland. I found one kilt-making shop where people were looking for their family tartan to get fitted for a wedding. I was so excited; I thought, is it true?
Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日), is a day set aside for the kids. It’s celebrated annually on May 5 and is the last of the Golden Week holidays. It is also a holiday with ancient origins full of traditions. Whether you are celebrating the day with your children or you’re a favorite uncle or auntie to one, here are a few things to know about the national holiday.
A holiday with ancient origins
Before being known as Kodomo no Hi, the day was called Tango no Sekku (端午の節句) and was one of the five annual ceremonies called Gosekku held at the imperial court. Tango no Sekku was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon of the Chinese or lunar calendar. When Japan switched to the Gregorian calendar, the holiday was moved to May 5.
Until 1948, the day was known as Boys’ Day or Feast of Banners and celebrated only boys and recognized fathers. It was the counterpart to Hinamatsuri or Girls Day held on March 3. While Boy’s Day was a national holiday, Hinamatsuri was not recognized as one. The name was eventually changed to Children’s Day. It included both boy and girl children and recognized mothers and fathers, upholding the family quality of unity and celebrating the growth and happiness of children.
To understand the holiday better, let us go back to the Nara and Heian periods (AD 710-794 and AD 794-1185). This was a time when Chinese traditions greatly influenced Japan’s culture. It is said that Gosekku (O-Shogatsu (January 1), Hinamatsuri (March 3), Tanabata (July 7), and Kiku Matsuri (September 9) along with Tango) came from China and sailed across the Sea of Japan alongside green tea and kanji.
However, Gosekku had a negative connotation in China and were known as unlucky …continue reading
The older residents of older parts of Tokyo are generally what make such areas so interesting, but the similarly ageing architecture also plays its part, and when it comes to textures and colour, this garage most definitely takes some beating. A building so fantastic in fact that locals appear willing to colour coordinate accordingly.