Inemuri (居眠り), snoozing, is one of the Japanese cultural traits. Students fall asleep in class. People snooze on a train. Members of the Diet (国会議員 kokkai giin) snooze during a session. Local assembly members (地方議員 chihou giin) snooze during an assembly meeting. Wikipedia refers to it as “a custom that is notably seen in Japan.”
Inemuri is often witnessed in the Japanese parliament and local assembly meetings. Some Japanese TV crews routinely film snoozing assembly members during a session and show the video on TV news. It is pretty popular among viewers, and you would think assembly members all over Japan have learned that there could be a TV camera in the meeting and would try very hard not to snooze.
When they are confronted (突きつける tsukitsukeru) with the video of them snoozing during the meeting, they always say “No, I was not snoozing. I was just closing my eyes.” Here is one video that was broadcast on March 30, 2021. It was taken in Ibaragi Prefecture Assembly. As you can see, most of them are older males, and they have been assembly members for years.
Their salary is approximately US$13,000 paid by taxpayers (納税者 nozeisha)! In many local communities, people still vote for those who are from notable families in their communities, for instance. And once they get in, they “serve” the community for years. And that may be one of the reasons that some communities do not want newcomers (please see my blog on Kominka.) They want the status quo (今そのままの状態 ima sonomama no jotai).
Now, here is something new. After the mayor resigned relating to a violation of the Public Offices Election Act of the parliament election, the town of Aki Takada in …continue reading
If you’ve ever traveled around Tokyo, chances are you’ve taken the famous Yamanote Line. It goes around in a loop and stops at key areas in central Tokyo. Departing every two minutes and carrying over four million passengers a day, the history of the 35-kilometer line makes for an exciting read.
History of the Yamanote Line
Let’s go back almost a century and a half, on Oct 14, 1872, when the Tokaido Line, Japan’s first railway line, officially opened. It was a 29-kilometer stretch connecting Shimbashi in Tokyo to the port city of Yokohoma. The line passed through Shinagawa and was used for freight distribution. The stretch connecting Shimbashi and Shinagawa became the first bit of the loop that would eventually become the Yamanote Line.
The Tohoku Line was then built to connect northern Japan with the populated area in Tokyo. Like the Tokaido Line, it was also used for freight distribution such as silk and vegetables coming from the north and stopping at Ueno station. However, it was soon discovered that there was a missing link connecting Ueno up north to Shinagawa down south. Despite being only a 5.5-kilometer gap in between the hubs, the area was located in a densely populated area.
Therefore, in 1885, the Nippon Railway established a private line, the Shinagawa Line, away from the section with one million inhabitants and passed through Tokyo’s virtually inhabited western land. It was almost quadruple in length, but the empty land meant lower construction costs at a quicker rate of completion. The route eventually becomes Shibuya and its nearby stations of today.
Quick Facts About the Yamanote Line
Ready for some interesting tidbits about the Yamanote Line? When Shinjuku station first opened in 1885, it only served about 50 passengers a day. Imagine the number not even reaching a …continue reading
During the Parade of Nations of the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony, the athletes entered the stadium as the P.A, system said their country’s name first in French, then in English, and finally in Japanese. So when the host country’s team made its appearance, the speakers rang out with “Japon! Japan! Nihon!”, which, of course, translates to “Japan! Japan! Japan!”
And yet, a number of people in Japan were confused, because even though Nihon means “Japan,” it’s not the only way to say the country’s name in the local language. “I think the stadium announcer made a mistake,” said news commentator Tatsuyuki Takaoka the following morning on talk show Asapara S, where former volleyball player Junichi Kawai said he too was surprised.
So what did they think the stadium announcer should have said? Nippon. “That’s what we were always called back in my day,” said Kawai. Even the announcers for public broadcaster NHK, which was televising the event, called the arriving team “Nippon” immediately after the stadium announcer introduced them as “Nihon.”
So which is the correct way to say “Japan?” Both of them. Yes, as strange as is it may seem, there are two ways to say “Japan” in Japanese: Nihon and Nippon. Making the while thing even more confusing is that, in Japanese, Nihon and Nippon are written exactly the same way.
Summer in Japan is the perfect time to try out new sports or outdoor activities. With months of cloudless blue skies and longer days, it’s a great opportunity to finally get on the fitness bandwagon and try to lose a bit of weight. While the obvious answer is to join a gym or fitness center, there are other ways to stay fit and active this season.
So what can we do here in Japan to improve our fitness, lose a bit of weight and feel healthier during the Japanese summer? Here are five ideas for you to consider that use the time of year, natural environment as well as local sports and activities to help you get in shape and feel healthier.
1. Go for a walk (or run)
Walking is the easiest, cheapest and possibly least stressful way to lose weight in a relatively short space of time. Japanese cities are surprisingly easy to walk around. Despite the high population densities and busy roads, even the largest metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka have plenty of green spaces—whether parks or along the rivers and canals that cut through them.
The best places to enjoy a good walk are riverside areas, such as the banks of the Edogawa or Tamagawa in Tokyo or the Nakanoshima waterfront district in Osaka. There’s something about the cool breeze of the riverside that makes a summer walk so much more pleasurable and more apt to keep you moving.
In Japan, summer heat comes quickly after tsuyu. One day, the weather is unbearably humid, and the next, scorching heat makes you dread going outside. Daily small talk almost always starts with someone saying 暑（あつ）いですね (“it’s hot, isn’t it”) as if stating the obvious helped. But summer in Japan is no joke. Heatstroke is a real threat.
Thus, whenever days are expected to get really hot in Japan and the risk of heatstroke rises, the Japan Meteorological Agency issues a 熱中症（ねっちゅうしょう）警戒（けいかい）アラート (heatstroke alert). Some cities even broadcast a warning announcement over a speaker system (防災（ぼうさい）無線（むせん）) in the morning, urging people to avoid going outside as much as possible, especially not exercising.
The warning also encourages people to turn on their A.C. However, some people would rather risk visiting the hospital (or worse) instead of spending extra money running the air conditioner. Here is NoradJapan to remind us a hospital visit could be a lot more expensive.
Kominka (古民家) – a traditional Japanese old house. A new fad that came about in the pandemic Japan was to escape (逃げる nigeru) from big cities and live in a rural area (田舎 inaka). The COVID-19 pandemic made many people realize that they did not need to live near the big cities and endure a 2-hour/one-way commute in a crowded train every day when remote work was encouraged.
Many rural communities are dying as young people left the communities, leaving only old people in the communities. It is called Genkai Shuraku (限界集落 a village on the verge of disappearing). Over fifty percent of the residents are over 65 years old, and the ability to carry out the communicative function is close to disappearing. As of April 2019, there were 20,372 Genkai Shuraku in Japan.
When the resident passed away, his/her family members living out of the community likely abandoned the old house, farm, mountain, and forest in the rural area. Then Kominka was publicized by foreigners living in Japan and news of their renovations and their lives in the Japanese rural communities was broadcast on TV. Some of them started a guest house (民宿 minshuku) targeting tourists from overseas.
Kominka literally means old houses, and it refers to Japan’s traditional old houses. Meanwhile, “akiya” (空き家) means empty houses, and it does not necessarily mean Japanese traditional old houses. Here I am writing about kominka.
Some younger Japanese families have started to buy kominka and renovate them, getting subsidies (補助金 hojokin) from municipalities with a hope to have a larger house, clean air, and no commute.
There is a very dark side of moving into rural communities with their own traditions, and long family history. Some families moved in only to move out after being explicitly …continue reading
And she’s making a big difference for her players.
Along with cumulonimbus clouds and chirping cicadas, the Japanese High School Baseball Championship, a.k.a. Koshien Tournament, is a sure sign that summer has arrived in Japan. After a pandemic-caused hiatus in 2020, the national single-elimination contest is back this year, with regional qualifiers going on right now to determine the teams that will compete in the finals in August.
Last Saturday, Toyonaka City high school Mino Jiyu Gakuen took the field in the Osaka Prefecture qualifier, and even before the first pitch, two unique aspects to the team could be seen: a lack of shaved heads among the players, and a woman managing the team.
The Osaka Prefectural High School Baseball Association says that 25-year-old Sachie Yamada is “likely” the first female manager of a high school baseball team in Osaka, apparently having found no previous documented cases. Yamada, originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, a graduate of Tokyo Women’s College of Physical Education, where she played nanshiki yakyu, a sport which uses a hard rubber ball, but adheres to the rules of baseball, not softball. She’s currently in her third year with the Mino Jiyu Gakuen team, having joined the program as an assistant coach in 2019 before being promoted to manager in April of last year.
▼ Introductory video to Miho Jiyu Gakuen
The “Jiyu” part of Mino Jiyu Gakuen means “freedom,” and it’s also an apt description of Yamada’s coaching philosophy. In Japanese baseball, particularly at the high school level, the atmosphere is often strict and stoic, with players expected to adhere to strict, spartan codes of conduct. Yamada, however, doesn’t believe that things have to be done that way. “I want to let my players feel relaxed and free of tension while playing,” says Yamada. “I want to let them play the game the …continue reading
One of the first words that most Japanese language students learn is 先生（せんせい）. This makes sense because many people visit Japan to become students or teachers and as such encounter the word every single day.
Usually 先生 is attached to the family name of the person that you are talking to; therefore, a teacher called Matsuo Yamada would be called Yamada-sensei. Interestingly, as Japanese people are aware that foreign people often use their first name, it is often attached to the first name of many foreign staff.
While sensei may seem simple – simply attach it and you’re done – if you look at it in its basic kanji some of its more complicated uses are revealed:
先生 = 先 (previously) + 生 (born).
This simple breakdown of the 漢字 (Chinese-origin character) elucidates some of the other uses of 先生, as the word can often be used to refer to someone who precedes you in experience.
So, for example, a doctor that is treating you for a disease knows a lot more about medicine than you; therefore, you would refer to him/her as 先生. Similarly, a lawyer is also sometimes called 先生 simply because of their vast knowledge of the law compared to most people.
Another place where 先生 is common is in the martial arts. In martial arts like karate, rank is strictly adhered to by the rewarding of belts of different colors that immediately tell the practitioners who is senior or junior to them. Naturally, senior instructors will usually expect to be called 先生.
When is a sensei not a sensei?
This breakdown of 先生 also help us understand some of the exceptions to its use. A good example is high school kid who may make extra pocket money tutoring a junior at his/her school. Naturally, a high school kid is …continue reading
And if you have another kid after that? Another 20 million yen.
Japan’s birthrate has been slumping for decades, and while anyone packed into a crowded Tokyo commuter train might momentarily be fine with the concept of fewer people, long-term it presents problems for Japan’s pension, health insurance, and other social welfare and economic systems.
Because of that, both the national and local governments are constantly investigating new initiatives to encourage people to start cranking out more kids, and the latest plan from the city of Sado, Niigata Prefecture, is to give parents 20 million yen (US$181,800) for having a third kid, and also for each additional kid after that.
That’s not to say that a city official shows up in the delivery room with a stack of 2,000 10,000-yen bills, though, since the grant is meant to help with the costs of both child rearing and education. The parents receive a payment of 200,000 on the occasion of the child’s birth followed by sums of 400,000, 500,000, and 800,000 yen when they turn 6, 12, and 15 years old, roughly aligning with the ages when they start elementary, middle, and high school (as high school is not part of compulsory education in Japan, even public high schools charge tuition). Combined with a separate Sado program started earlier in the year that gives a 100,000-yen grant for any birth in the city, the total payment for each third or later child comes out to 20 million yen.
▼ “You’re welcome, Mom and Dad.”
But why start the surge at the third child? Because of the results of a survey Sado conducted last year among households in the city who already have children, which asked them how large of a …continue reading
For most of us non-Japanese women, moving to Japan and transitioning to life here can be a huge weight. So what to do when you find your body suddenly changing without warning? How do you cope in a foreign country when you become foreign to yourself? And where the heck can a gal find brown bread in this country?
Know that change is gonna come
So you’ve acquired an unwelcome muffin top. Or your skin has exploded. Or your hair has taken on an electrocuted frizz and… you. Loathe. It.
Guess what? It’s completely okay to feel that way but just remember that it is expected. It’s what our bodies do. They change. Especially when our lives have taken a 360-degree turn. I came to Japan on JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) where I was randomly placed in the most inaka (countryside) location ever.
I mean, this place didn’t even have a 7-Eleven.
Which meant the health foods I was used to back home—whole wheat crackers, brown bread, quinoa, nuts and seeds to name a beautiful few—were as alien to my environment as I was myself. Plus, the nearest sports facility was an hour’s drive away and I felt uncomfortable exercising outside because everyone stared.
Spot the 7-Eleven.
Accept that living in an unaccustomed place, breathing in different air, eating exotic foods, working an unfamiliar job and engaging in new daily habits instinctively have a big impact on our health.
See your body for what it is: a miracle in motion
Turns out Japanese food isn’t as healthy as I had expected. During my first months here, eating the school lunch (white rice and white bread) every day, dining out and eating over at my …continue reading