Sure, tennis and band are fun, but it’s hard to beat the appeal of kitaku.

Japan is often described as a group-oriented society, and that affects school life too. Especially in middle and high school, kids in Japan are strongly encouraged to sign up for extracurricular activities, and some schools even make joining a club or sports team mandatory.

Because Japanese extracurricular activities often have pretty intense practice/meeting schedules, doing more than one usually isn’t possible, so choosing what club to join is an important decision. Japanese smartphone text-entry app Simeji recently asked its users which school club they want to join, collecting 2,690 responses from users aged 10 to 19 and compiled a list of the top 10, so let’s look at the results.

10. Table tennis
9. Light music
8. Tennis
7. Badminton
6. Basketball

Racket sports had a strong showing in the 6-10 rankings, which also included the “light music” (or keion, to use the Japanese term) club, which specializes in modern/pop music, as opposed to classical or marching varieties.

5. Art
4. Concert band
3. Volleyball
2. Dance

The 2-5 group is where the traditional school concert band shows up. As for the dance club, in Japanese schools it’s usually a mix of jazz and hip hop styles, often performed as a group, not ballroom, ballet, or interpretive routines.

And finally, at the top of the list, the club the respondents most want to join is what’s referred to in Japanese as “kitaku-bu,” literally “going home club,” or, in laymen’s terms…

not being part of any extracurricular activity at all, and being free to go do what they want after …continue reading


Thanks to all at the University of Findlay and all of the webinar participants.

My friend and colleague, Mark Bookman, a Ph.D. Candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, also zoomed in to the presentation. He is close to finishing his dissertation on the history and politics of disability in Japanese and global contexts. Mark is an expert on the kinds of things I was talking about in Part Two of my lecture. He gave me some valuable feedback and I want to share it with the participants.

Click here to download Mark’s comments.

Again, I really appreciate Mark’s feedback. It is this kind of collaboration and dialogue (and frankly, good anthropology) that is important and valuable.

I welcome more feedback from anyone who is willing.

For more of this kind of collaboration and research, check out the Asian Ethnology “Disability and Japan in the Digital Age.”

Transcript available here:

You can also check out Mark Bookman’s work here:

…continue reading


I have been always interested in teenage vernacular (特有の言葉 tokuyu no kotoba). My senior thesis was on the teenage vernacular in Southern California. Teenagers are experts (専門家senmonka) in creating new words as they are not bound by rules. They are creative in any language.

Some new words are born and die, while others gain status to be used on TV even on the news, lose the hipness, and are abandoned by the young creators. One of the significant changes I noticed in the 1990s was a change in accent in some vocabularies. Note that the conventional accents described here are ones used in Tokyo. Young people have started to flatten accents. This trend is called “flattening accents” (アクセントの平板化 akusento no heibanka.) Some words added a new meaning by altering the traditional accents (Table 1).

Table 1

Vocabulary Original Accents Original Meaning(s) New Accents New Meaning
クラブ(club) ク\ラブ – an organization that is created by people with a common interest

– an expensive drinking venue catered to corporate executives
クラブ¯ a hip dance club popular among hip young people
ネット(net) ネ\ット a device to catch fish etc ネット¯ internet
ライン(line) ラ\イン a straight one- dimensional figure ライン¯ The largest SNS in Japan

While Table 2 shows vocabularies that young people simply changed the traditional accents without altering or adding meanings.

(Table 2)

Vocabulary Original Accents New Accents Meaning
ショップ(shoppu) ショ\ップ ショップ¯ shop
モデル(moderu) モ\デル モデル¯ model
グーグル(guuguru) グ\ーグル グーグル¯ google
彼氏(kareshi) か\れし かれし¯ boyfriend
図書館(toshokan) としょ\かん としょかん¯ library

NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, a research arm established by NHK (Japanese public broadcaster,) added acceptable accents of 3300 words in 2016 based on “appropriateness” in broadcasting instead of correct/incorrect.

Not surprisingly, the flattening accents are more prevailed and accepted among young people. As a former sociolinguistics student, I have no problem accepting changes in language especially the changes that involve more than accents as in Table 1. However, some changes in accents are hard even to say! レ\タス(lettus retasu) isレタス¯ and <span …continue reading


Underneath those vegetables lies a mass of crunchy nightmares.

Japanese schools are well known for providing healthy, balanced lunches for students, especially compared to other certain countries where fries and pizza are the lunchtime norm.

But despite their excellent track record, every now and then there’s going to be a slip up. That’s what happened on March 11 at Asaka Daigo Elementary School in Asaka City, Saitama Prefecture.

Seven people, one teacher and six students, ended up with chipped teeth after eating the school lunch, and three of the children had to go to the hospital. The cause of their injuries: the noodles were fried too hard.

▼ Not the sensei you want to be seeing after lunch.

The meal in question was sara udon (“plate udon”), a dish from Nagasaki that puts cooked vegetables and meat on top of fried noodles. Unlike other udon dishes, the noodles are supposed to be crispy, rather than soft and chewy.

▼ Check out 3:18 in this video to see the toppings
put on top of the fried, crunchy noodles.

Apparently what went wrong was the cooking time for the noodles. Instead of being fried for two to three minutes as they should be, they were fried for ten minutes, turning them extremely hard. The staff who cooked the food on-site at the school did not have instructions for the correct cooking time and opted to fry them longer because “they didn’t look done yet.”

What’s more, the previous day, sixth-grade children were served donuts that had expired a year ago, due to a delivery mistake.

The school’s lunch department has said that they are taking measures for this to not happen again, but Japanese netizens had a lot of pressing concerns:

“The kids are told to …continue reading


Why, back in my day, we had to make music by hitting and blowing into pieces of wood!

Although it generally isn’t thought of as such, music is probably one of the most challenging subjects for students to learn. Proficiency in it requires a combination of mathematical technical theory with the muscle coordination of Phys Ed simultaneously.

But now, children in elementary and junior high schools all across Okazaki City in Aichi Prefecture are getting a huge leg up in the form of Yamaha’s Vocaloid software.

For a long time now Vocaloid has been the go-to tool of online songwriters. This package which helped launch the career of virtual idol Hatsune Miku allows a computer to do all the singing and instrument playing, letting anyone express themselves through music without requiring the physical traits often acquired through years of practice.

For those unfamiliar with how Vocaloid works, it simplifies musical performance and notation by visualizing all components of a score as blocks on a grid. Singing is done by simply typing text into the block and assigning it a note by positioning it on the grid.

▼ Here’s a demonstration

Last month the simplified Vocaloid Education Edition II for iPad seen in the video above was made available to all students as a part of the city’s version of Japan’s GIGA School concept, which aims to replace all paper textbooks with individual tablets for every student.

A trial run was conducted with a second-year class at Okazaki Municipal Minami Junior High School. The teacher in charge reported: “By using Vocaloid, it’s possible to express yourself musically regardless of your strengths or weaknesses. It felt like the possibilities within each student were greatly opened up.”

The software may have applications outside of music class …continue reading


A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people” ~ Gandhi. Over the years, learning new Japanese words has evolved into a passion of mine. If I could sum up my findings so far, it’s that Japanese culture makes you aware of small details that were always there but didn’t […]

The post 19 Beautiful Japanese Words to Bring Meaning to the Ordinary appeared first on The Invisible Tourist.

…continue reading


Do you know about online lessons? graph of japanese statistics

This survey from MMD Labo looked at online lessons. With the pandemic and people spending more time at home, it would have been interesting to see how many people had chosen to start lessons for these reasons, but the results of that question were not offered in this summary of the survey.

I’ve not started any private lessons, although for work I’ve done a good number of free lectures I’ve found through YouTube, mostly on the subjects of GPUs and autonomous vehicles.

I’m surprised to see yoga, fitness and sports as the second-most popular genre; I can understand watching YouTube videos, but two-way lessons seem difficult without physical feedback.

Survey results

Q1: Do you know about online lessons? (Sample size=6,607)

Currently taking them 6.0%
Used to take them 5.6%
Investigating taking them 3.4%
Know about them, but never used them 35.4%
Know the term, but don’t know what kind of service they are 5.9%
Heard the term, but don’t know any more 18.7%
Don’t know anything 25.0%

Q2: What genres of lessons have you taken? (Sample size=766, multiple answer, top ten)

Foreign languages 36.7%
Yoga, fitness, sports 21.5%
Business 21.4%
Academic subjects 20.6%
Music 19.5%
IT, programming 19.5%
Cooking 18.4%
Art, design 17.2%
Fashion, beauty 16.2%
Dance, ballet 16.1%

Q3: What genres of lessons might you like to take in the future? (Sample size=766, multiple answer, top ten)

Foreign languages 36.2%
Yoga, fitness, sports 27.7%
IT, programming 27.3%
Music 24.3%
Cooking 23.0%
Business 22.6%
Fashion, beauty 21.1%
Academic subjects 19.6%
Art, design 18.9%
Sewing, accessory making 18.3%

Q4: Are there any genres of online lessons you’d like to take? (Sample size=5,841)

Yes (to SQ) 45.4%
None in particular 54.6%

Q4SQ1: What genres of lessons might you like to take? (Sample size=2,652, multiple answer, top ten)

Foreign languages 43.8%
Yoga, fitness, sports 25.6%
IT, programming 20.2%
Cooking 20.1%
Music 17.9%
Business 12.1%
Fashion, beauty 9.1%
Counselling 9.1%
Sewing, accessory making 8.9%
Fortune telling, spiritual 8.4%

The following questions were for 441 people who had taken online lessons.

Q5: How much did you spend per month for online lessons? (Sample size=441)

Under 500 yen 7.9%
500 to 999 yen 15.4%
1,000 to 1,999 yen 16.6%
2,000 to 2,999 yen 12.5%
3,000 to 3,999 yen 9.8%
4,000 to 4,999 yen 9.8%
5,000 to 5,999 yen 6.3%
6,000 to 6,999 yen 2.7%
7,000 to 7,999 yen 2.7%
8,000 to 8,999 yen 1.7%
9,000 to 9,999 yen 1.6%
Over 10,000 yen 4.1%
Free 4.8%

…continue reading


Board of education asks schools to consider whether the policy is an outdated infringement on individual rights.

Schools in Japan have a reputation for being particularly picky about students’ appearances, and one of the clearest examples of how detailed dress codes can be is that some have rules in place saying that students must wear plain white underwear.

This isn’t a regulation that all schools in Japan have, and even among Japanese people there are those who think the rule is going too far. But it does exist in some educational institutions, and to find out how many, the Nagasaki Prefectural Board of Education conducted a study of public high schools and middle schools within the prefecture, and found wear-white-underwear-when-you-come-to-class rules are surprisingly common.

Out of 238 schools examined, 138, or 58 percent, have white underwear listed as a mandatory part of the dress code. However, that number may be dropping in the near future, as the board thinks this is cause for concern, and believes that by maintaining such policies schools may be leaving themselves open to complaints of violating students’ rights.

Considering that Japan is the same country where a district court recently upheld schools’ authority to prohibit students from dying their hair in the interest of maintaining discipline, one might assume educational institutions need not worry about challenges to their authority to dictate underwear color, since white is ostensibly specified so that girls’ bras won’t be visible through their uniform blouses. However, the specific wording of the dress codes is not “underwear must not be visible,” but “underwear must be white,” and so it requires a check for compliance, regardless of whether or not the student’s underwear is otherwise visible. At some schools this has been done by a teacher periodically pulling female students’ bra straps up through …continue reading


World-famous Japanese author has no fear of missing out.

Recently, fans of fashion and literature got a happy surprise when Uniqlo released a line of T-shirts inspired by the writings of world-renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In what also may also be a surprise to some, Uniqlo has its own lifestyle magazine, called LifeWear, and it recently sat down for an interview with the 72-year-old writer.

Naturally, clothing was one of the things they discussed. “What sort of people do you look at and think “Ah, they’re fashionable?’” he was asked, to which he replied “I like when people who can wear just ordinary clothing comfortably. I don’t have much concern for people who get boxed in by brand names, and then it’s like the clothes are wearing them instead.”

But with Murakami’s famously wide and eclectic range of interests, the conversation went beyond clothing, and at one point the subject of social media came up. While Murakami previously ran a blog where he took questions on any and all topics from fans around the globe, he’s not a social media fan. “I’ve heard you never look at any social media, but why is that?” the interviewer asked, and Murakami didn’t mince words in his answer:

“Generally speaking, the quality of writing isn’t very good. Reading good writing and listening to good music are incredibly important things in life. So, to phrase it from the other way around, there’s nothing better than not listening to bad music and not reading bad writing.”

Murakami’s blunt assessment of the quality of prose to be found on social media hasn’t stemmed the flow of Twitter commenting, though, where reactions to his words have included:

“I agree with him, and I’d like actual websites to go back to being the main way people express themselves online.”
“I get what …continue reading


March is Women’s History Month (女性史月間 joseishi gekkan). The equality issue was widely discussed when Yoshiro Mori, the former Chair of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, made discriminatory (差別的 sabetsuteki) remarks about women (see my blog “How Not to Apologize – Mori of Tokyo Olympics.) Every newspaper and every TV news talked how outdated (時代遅れ jidaiokure) our society was. Japan ranked 121stout of 153 countries (IMF 3/2020) as far as the gender gap is concerned.

So what should I start with?

Japan is the only country that requires a married couple to have the same last name – either husband or wife’s last name. This has been a problem for women who have established themselves professionally. I know many in academia who use two last names combined. But legally, they cannot do so. Tamayo Marukawa, the Minister of State for Gender Equality as well as the Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, along with 50 other members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP 自由民主党 jiyuminshutou), sent a letter asking members of the local assemblies not to support a policy change (Tokyo Shimbun 2/27/2021) approving of a married couple having different family names. Ironically (皮肉なことにhinikunakotoni), Marukawa is her maiden name (旧姓kyusei). She has used her maiden name for 13 years although she changed her last name legally upon marriage. And why do these 50 disapprove (不賛成であるfusanseidearu) of a married couple using separate last names (called 夫婦別姓fufu bessei) enough to pressure their local assemblies members?

Reasons Cited by these 50 LDP Members

  • Japan has 戸籍 (koseki) a family registry, categorized by a family name.The group fears that a family-centered social unit may be jeopardized.
  • The stability of a child’s last name may be …continue reading