Guide to the Kawaii Culture of Tokyo

Photo from Pixabay

You could argue that kawaii culture is perhaps Japan’s biggest influence on the world. The over-the-top colourful childlike cuteness typical of all things ‘kawaii’ can be seen far beyond the country the culture took its first breath in. Its impact is felt the whole world over. Even if you don’t know what the word means, you will have encountered it in some shape or form. 

What exactly is ‘kawaii’ though? 


Kawaii: 

adjective – denoting a Japanese artistic and cultural style that emphasizes the quality of cuteness, using bright colours and characters with a childlike appearance

noun – (in Japanese art and culture) the quality of being lovable or cute

(source: Collins English Dictionary)


Put simply ‘kawaii’ is anything cute, adorable and childlike. Think cute puppies and cuddly teddy bears. It is though something much more than this too. For something to be truly kawaii, there can be nothing negative about it. It creates feelings of protectiveness, care and love. Kawaii culture isn’t simply about looking cute and adorable though. It is a form of rebellion, a protest against the pressures of adulthood and the real world faced by young people in the rule driven society of Japan.

With its roots in a much less positive meaning dating back as far as the Tale of Genji in the 11th century, kawaii took on its current meaning in the 1970s and 80s. Bizarrely it started with a ‘cute’ writing style used by teenage girls of horizontal writing with hearts, faces and picture elements. This was adopted by magazines as a nod to the cool West against the tradition and rigidity of post war Japan. The introduction of cute simple characters such as the ever popular Hello Kitty closely followed. And kawaii culture was born.

Photo by ColobusYeti.

Kawaii culture is now fully part of the way Japan works and lives. It has taken over, it is everywhere. No longer only the realm of teenage girls. You can see the influence of kawaii in fashion, food, toys, household goods and even signs on construction sites.

To the outsider kawaii can seem a little overwhelming, a little over-the-top-and-in-your-face. Let me guide you through the culture of kawaii that has broken out from Japan and gone from national obsession to global phenomenon.

Characters and Mascots: 

Kawaii culture is responsible for the zillions of cute and colourful characters you will see gracing everything from mugs to earthquake guidance. Characters such as Hello Kitty and Pokemon are kawaii trailblazers spreading cuteness across the world. 

These characters have certain characteristics in common – they are simple and childlike in design. Often with big eyes and facial expressions such as smiles and winks, they are designed for maximum cuteness appeal. Anything can get a kawaii makeover with animals, food and objects being especially popular.

Sumikko Gurashi characters from San-X.

Character goods are serious business in Japan where you will find stores full of goodies practically everywhere. Many characters have their own themed stores where fans can part with their cash from an ever-changing range of products.

If you fancy indulging in some character goods shopping, here are some top spots in Tokyo.

Character Street – located underneath Tokyo Station, this cluster of 21 shops is kawaii heaven. There are stores for both Japanese and international characters. You can find rare items specifically linked to the Tokyo station location. Shops here include Donguri Republic (the official Studio Ghibli store), Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Moomin and one of my personal favourites Kapibara-san.

Kiddyland – toy store extraordinaire located near the Harajuku kawaii clothing hotspot of Takeshita Dori street. 5 floors of kawaii goodness. Website

Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo – you can find the biggest Pokemon shop in all of Japan in Sunshine City mall in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Here you can find Pokemon on more things than you would believe possible – even curry sauce packets. Seriously.

Check out our guide to shopping in Tokyo for more.

However it doesn’t stop at big known characters. You will find cute characters on nearly everything from household products to stationery. A stroll round any of the ubiquitous 100 yen stores or shops such as Loft or Tokyo Hands will show you a huge assortment of colourful cute characters trying to entice you into buying their product. 

Photo by ColobusYeti.

It’s not only things you can buy either. It seems like every sign, poster, company…like everything has a cute character attached to them. A cute little character will warn you about getting your fingers caught in train doors; another will guide you through instructions on how to do something. They will give you information on earthquakes and warn you about being careful on construction sites. Towns have their own mascots as do many government organisations and tourist attractions.

kawaii warning sign on train door in Japan
Don’t get your fingers caught in the door! Photo by Joanna Maguire

Eats and Drinks: 

Kawaii culture has had a massive impact on the world of food and drink in Japan. Whether eating in or out, snack or meal – some things will be so cute, you won’t want to eat or drink them. 

Themed cafes for the host of cute characters loved by the Japanese are very common and hugely popular. Not only are they styled in the manner of the character, you can get themed food and drink too and it is usually extremely kawaii.

Photo by ColobusYeti.
Popular cafes in Tokyo include:

Cafe de Miki – a British themed ‘Hello Kitty’ cafe in the DiverCity mall on Odaiba. Sweet snacks, desserts and drinks all served with a Hello Kitty twist. Website

Peanuts Cafe – devoted to all things Snoopy and the Peanuts cartoon strip, this cafe offers a more subtle approach to the character cafe experience. Website

Pompompurin Cafe – Pompompurin is a Sanrio character who is a golden retriever dog wearing a brown beret. As dogs do. His favourite food is crème caramel pudding (the Japanese word for this is ‘purin’ hence the name. And you can order it at this cafe in Harajuku along with all sorts of sweet and savoury treats. Website

Kawaii Monster Cafe – picture a cafe where someone had got hold of the kawaii gun and covered everywhere with colourful, bright kawaiiness and you have got Kawaii Monster Cafe. Even the food is mega colourful. Website

Maid cafes are another aspect of the kawaii culture in Tokyo. To the eye of an outsider, these may seem a little sleazy. This is far from the truth. They are very family friendly and full of light cuteness. You can visit one for a bit of ‘moe magic’ that will make your food taste better whilst you wear rabbit ears. Not your thing? You can try out one of the similar type cafes such as butlers, owls and of course cats  – all fitting under the kawaii cafe umbrella.

After a snack? Well don’t fear. Kawaii has got it covered. All manner of snacks, drinks and food products have an adorable little character helping to bring a little bit of kawaii magic to your consumption. You can often find special items linked to kawaii characters or celebrities too!

Photo by Joanna Maguire.

The kawaii culture has also invaded the home and kitchen too. Cooking at home? There are products galore to help you make your meal kawaii. From character themed chopsticks to cute cutters for your bento items and colourful animals on glasses. Mealtimes need never be boring again.

Idols:

Idols are the queens and kings of Japanese pop and entertainment culture. Springing up in the 1970s, Japanese idols (from the Japanese word ‘aidoru’ アイドル ) are manufactured and presented in a way that puts the Western girl and boy bands to shame. 

To be a kawaii idol, you don’t necessarily have to be especially good or talented. Being an idol is more about presenting the right attitude and public image. The image of cuteness and innocence often portrayed by idols is heavily controlled. The faintest whiff of scandal can be enough to end a career. The right image though will inspire devotion amongst fans – and there is no devotion like that of the fan of a Japanese idol!

Idol group in Akihabara. Photo by ColobusYeti.

Idols often perform multiple roles aside from their singing. They pop up on television shows (especially the ever popular panel shows), adverts, modelling and acting. It is usually quite a short lived career for an idol though. The ‘retirement’ age for an idol is around 16-18 years,

Popular and current idols include: 

Seiko Matsuda – known as the ‘Eternal Idol’, Matsuda had her first number one single when she was 18 years old – in 1980. She went on to have 24 consecutive number one singles in the Japanese chart Oricon. A record she held for many years. Matsuda is still hugely popular and successful.

AKB48 – named after Akihabara, the Tokyo district the group have their own theatre. AKB48 bring a new meaning to the words manufactured girl band. Created as ‘idols you can meet’, girls are auditioned and then perform as part of team. Each team with their own theme or characteristics. The number of members in AKB48 varies and has been as high as over 120 though never lower than 48 split over the three teams.

Babymetal– the unusual yet strangely effective combination of JPop and metal has proved hugely successful for this metal idol band. Three kawaii girls, one live band and outfits combining the gothic and punk lolita fashions has led to rare worldwide success for a Japanese artist.

Photo by ColobusYeti.

Hatsune Miku – proof that you don’t even have to be real to be an idol. The character for the Vocaloid singing synthesizer software is huge in Japan. Hatsune Miku has a whole host of merchandise to her name including rhythm games, anime, manga and she even performs concerts with a live band.

Fashion and Behaviour:

You can see the impact of kawaii culture in the fashions of teenagers and young adults in Japan. As in many countries, fashion here is seen as a way of expressing who you are, what group you belong to and the values you hold. It is part of identity and some people want to identify as kawaii. So they reflect this in their clothes, mannerisms and even sometimes how they talk.

Kawaii isn’t just for females! Photo by ColobusYeti.

Kawaii culture has led to several genres of fashion. Perhaps the most known one is the Lolita style. This is full of feminine Victorian and Edwardian style dresses, petticoats and ruffles. There are sub genres a plenty including gothic, punk, sweet and kodona. Other genres of fashion include Fairy Kei (cute childlike pastel coloured style), Decora (accessory upon accessory) and Gyaru (garish street fashion). 

Some don’t limit themselves to the clothes they wear. They may write in a cute style, speak in a high pitched giggly voice and adapt their eyes so they have the wide eyed kawaii look (sometimes only with make-up, some though go as far as surgery).

Harajuku fashion
Photo by Joanna Maguire

You probably have already heard of Harajuku – the best known area in Tokyo for kawaii fashion. It was at the forefront of cutting edge kawaii style for many years. Whilst the fashion scene there has declined in recent years, it is still a cool place to head to in order to feed your kawaii fashion urges. There are clothes and accessory shops galore and still some amazing street fashion to spy. For more on shopping in Harajuku, see our Tokyo shopping guide.

Kawaii Sightseeing:

Although kawaii is literally everywhere you look in Tokyo, there are some hotspots well worth a visit for cuteness overload.

Sanrio Puroland – home of characters such as My Melody, Cinnamoroll and of course the world famous Hello Kitty. Hugely popular indoor theme park on the outskirts of Tokyo complete with shows, parades, rides and a character themed food court. Website 

Studio Ghibli – devoted to the work of  Japanese animation giants Studio Ghibli, this museum with a difference is home to kawaii character favourites Totoro and the Catbus plus so many more. A place to explore and wonder at. Website

Sign for the Ghibli museum in Tokyo, Japan
Photo by Joanna Maguire.

Fujiko F Fujiyo Museum – informally known as the Doraemon museum, this houses work by the manga artist Fujiko F.Fujiyo – the creator of the hugely popular kawaii character Doraemon (a time travelling blue robotic cat). It has a massive artwork collection, small theater showing short films, manga reading room and several play rooms. Plus of course a themed café. Website

It’s not all cuteness and happy things 

Although most see kawaii culture as something fun and cute, it is not without its critics. Especially in terms of what it says about the appearance and behaviour of women. Some say it is too girly, that it reduces women down to ridiculous, childish objects. That it encourages the role of women as second class to men in Japanese society and contributes to holding back equality.

Fans of kawaii culture though argue that it is not about the sexualisation or holding back of women. It is about holding on to something instead. Holding on to childhood fun, an escape from the realities of adult life. The enjoyment of cute, simple things gives an escape from the rigidity of Japanese society facing many adults. 

Tips on sports in Japan

Sport in Japan is taken very seriously, and can provide a get-away activity for many frantic workers. If you are visiting for just over a short period of time or are considering living in Japan – sport is a way of chilling and ‘taking a breath’ from the usually rather stressful work situation. Here are some tips on where you can play your already favorite activities, or indulge in a new one unique to Japan , which you will not be able to find elsewhere: 

  1. Tennis

https://www.noahis.com (NOAH tennis clubs – a famous tennis chain)

https://www.jpta.or.jp/active/others/official/ (Japanese Professional Tennis Association)

For tennis fans (like me), there are numerous excellent tennis schools in Japan which fit everyone – if you are a beginner, or are looking to continue playing from a high level, or even enroll in some high-tier tournaments. The only thing that can really set you back is perhaps the language barrier and the moderately high prices. To be honest, there doesn’t need to be some kind of “high-world-end” understanding when the coach looks at you and goes “Fo-ru-hee-nn-do” – anyone can understand. 

Most courts in Japan are indoor to accommodate the rainy season which come annually, making it hard to play outside. The surfaces tend to range, but usually they are carpet-like, which is quite unique, and I haven’t seen anywhere before. The bounce is quite shallow and moderately-high speed, making it a mixture between grass and hard courts. 

The NOAH tennis chain is usually really good for practices and different local tournaments, and is moderately tourist-friendly. JPTA is more official, but both of them are definitely a good shout if you’re wanting to give it a go!

 

2. Kendo

 

If you’re wanting to try out a new unique sport, exclusive in Japan – I would recommend giving kendo a go. Kendo (剣道) is known as Japanese sword-fighting martial arts. Definitely have a go if you’re a fan of video games or ninja movies where they whirl their fancy katana swords around. Previously, kendo was done using katana swords, now, for practice and in general, specially-made bamboo swords are used. Kendo is taught in many high schools as a sport, and some people dedicate their time in a club (this is usually seen in more prestigious, usually private schools). 

 

3. Volleyball

Volleyball in Japan is a moderately leisure sport, which many play during the weekends for a couple of hours. There are many volleyball clubs – usually local, so this is an excellent opportunity to make connections with the local, active community. If interested you can go to a local city hall, and ask for further details (volleyball clubs are usual present in almost every town). 

 

4. Badminton

The most popular sports in Japan, as you have probably already noticed, involve mostly indoor activities, due to the heavy onsets of annual/seasonal rain. If playing tennis is quite expensive for you, particularly at indoor courts mentioned above, you can give a try at badminton. Badminton courts are usually available in most indoor city hall sports centers, where you can rent courts for fun, or get some lessons from some coaches who visit different towns at different days. This again, is quite a community-centered sport, so this is an excellent way of making connections to the local community and people, if that is what you are after. 

 

5. Skiing/Snow sports

This is a MUST especially if you visit during the winter, or if you are staying in Hokkaido (the northern part of Japan). The main highway roads in Hokkaido are actually warmed up underneath to prevent the slipping of cars during the extremely snowy seasons which are guaranteed in the winter. Everyone travels up north in the winter to ski and chill, and travel down south to Okinawa to spend their hot, humid summer vacations. Snow sports are quite popular, especially within youth, and Hokkaido has tourist-friendly facilities to have a go and enjoy your winter (because winter seasons aren’t as exciting as autumn or spring).

 

Planning a trip to Japan – Useful Websites

For those who are planning a visit to Japan – researching places of interest is a must! As a country that has much to offer in terms of culture, shopping and modern attractions, internet is a handy resource to use to research what suits you best. Here are some of my “go-to” websites, when it comes to some friendly recommendations:

  1. My Top 10 Japan

http://mytop10japan.com

My Top 10 Japan offers the viewer a range of attractions, cultural aspects and interesting non-cliche articles on places to visit in Japan. If you are interested in having a read around some of the main aspects of Japanese manners or new attractions in Nagoya – this website is a guaranteed place to start, to get some ideas rolling!

 

2. Japanese National Tourism Organization 

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

This one is a go-to for culture lovers for definite! The Japanese National Tourism Organization offers advise on visiting the most well-known cultural aspects of Japan, and uncovers details on traditional mindsets, accompanied by the desire to strive for the best. This website is a must for those who may not be reeled in by the bustling, night-life of Tokyo or the frantic shopping in Roppongi, but are rather interested in the traditions and the culture brought about by centuries of hard-work. The website offers many activities such as hot spring relaxations, beach visits, sports and unique activities such as tea picking. 

 

3. Japan Travel Guide

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e623a.html

For frantic backpackers and hostel-lovers – this one is definitely a website for your liking! Japan Travel Guide offers advice ranging from culture (castles, temples, shrines – you name it), to the more geeky/otaku-loving nerds for their manga and anime selves! This website gives excellent tips on how to travel efficiently, and effectively – especially if you are planning a span-country trip with many destinations. It offers excellent trips on how to save money on transport, and gives decent recommendations on places to stay and what to do. Definitely a bookmark-keeper for anyone interested!

 

4. Inside Japan

https://www.insidejapantours.com

 

Inside Japan is an excellent websites to accompany specific travel dates, as well as tips on tours and how to order numerous rail passes and transport tickets (through their office – which is rather handy)! This is an excellent website for those who are visiting the country first time, and would like to try out a variety of activities – in which case, a tour would be a perfect option! There are many different kinds of tours you can take including private tours, self-guided tours, individual ones and group ones, and they can all accommodate any kind of trip you were thinking of taking in Japan. By ordering numerous railcards, you can also save a lot of money (especially on the JR railings and the bullet trains) so think beforhand!

 

5. https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Tourism-g294232-Japan-Vacations.html

Trip Advisor Japan

Last but not least – good old Trip Advisor Japan! The perfect review of previous travelers and their experience at almost every location and hotel in Japan – brilliant website to use for ratings and price checks! Although, this will not include any cultural information or general facts about the places you visit (at least not as much as on other websites), Trip Advisor is easy to use and can give you many interesting ideas on where to go – including the non-tourist options which won’t have as much people going around.

5 ways for a unique stay in Japan

 

People travel because they want to experience new and unique things but they often forget about this aim when it comes to their accommodation. Accommodation in Japan can be as unique as everything else there and it would be a loss for a traveller to miss out on experiencing this aspect of this amazing country. So when booking accommodation in Japan, make sure that you follow a few easy guidelines and make your hotel stay as memorable as everything else.

Decide what you want.

A lot of the time, when we travel, we plan every step of our days with loving detail. We look up sites that tell us the best things to see while in the country of our choice and the best and cheapest way to go about it. But we don’t put the same amount of research and thought into deciding what kind of accommodations we want to try.

Japanese accommodation is unique in a way that you don’t see in many countries. The differences can be disorientating for someone who has never travelled there before and the descriptions on the hotel websites aren’t always clear about what is being offered. This can cause problems when the hotel or hostel ends up different than a traveller expected.

Decide what you want. Do you want a cheap place that is close to as many of the sites as possible? Or do you want to stay somewhere unique that might be a little further away but is easily accessible via the comprehensive public transport system? Do you want privacy or do you want to stay in a room with a few potential new fr

iends? Make your choices based on your decisions.

Do your research.

There are lots of sites that can book your accommodation while you’re in Japan. There are the usual ones of course, but there are a number of sites that are unique to accommodation in Japan and

 

should not be discounted. Sites such as www.japaneseguesthouses.com are in English and offer a range of accommodations that are uniquely Japanese and can add immeasurably to your experience in Japan.

Another tip for researching places to stay in Japan is expat blogs. There are a lot of good ones out there to help you find the cheapest places, the most interesting places or the best experiences. The internet has made all of this information available to you, use it.

Book early

Japan isn’t like a lot of Asian countries in this way. If you book late, expecting to snap up one of the cheap places that has open rooms discounted because the date is approaching and they don’t want em

 

pty rooms, you may end up paying a lot more than you expect. Even in the quiet season, Japan is busy, and because it’s so expensive compared to other places in Asia, the cheap places tend to fill up fast. Book early if you want to grab a bargain.

Try to stay in locally run businesses.

Don’t stay at a chain hotel. Japan has a variety of hotels and hostels that are run by local people and they can be an experience you will never forget. They’re easy to book, you can use any of your usual websites to make the reservations or one of the Japanese sites.

Many of these accommodations are located over several floors of someone’s home. They usually have private rooms as well as shared rooms available and are scrupulously clean and well appointed. The owners often supply breakfast with the room stay and are amazingly helpful, ready and willing to help out with anything they can and very pleased that you are visiting and like their city. They can direct you to interesting places or just open their home to you with a graciousness that is uniquely Japanese and adds immeasurably to your enjoyment of the country and its people.

Consider staying at a Ryokan

Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns. They often supply breakfast with the room payment and are more different from Western accommodations than you think they might be. The room you will get is usually small with bamboo mats on the ground and a futon to sleep on. They are like staying in another time, full of heavy and sweet smells and run by people who are friendly, even if they can barely understand you.

Staying in a ryokan will probably mean that you are served a traditional breakfast that consists of about ten small, exotic dishes. While sitting on the ground, with your legs curled under a small table and a sliding wooden door screening you from the rest of the world, you will feel like you’re having breakfast in another era.

Whether your accommodation needs in Japan are ruled by the contents of your bank account, or whether you want to experience all of the amazing and unique things that Japan is famous for, a little research and thought can go a long way in making your stay memorable. Keep an open mind, expect some surprises along the way, and make your accommodation choices in Japan as deliberate and interesting as the other experiences of your holiday.

5 Handy tips to time your trip to Japan perfectly

There is no second thought that travelling on a budget trip incorporates a lot of fun- and it could also be a necessity for a lot of us. Many a times, the timing of your trip defines how much money you will be spending on the trip. Who doesn’t like a handsome deal on travel? Particularly once you have figured out the airfare, hotel accommodations, on trip-food and inter country transportation.

Embrace yourself Budget travellers! A trip to Japan is a true delight. Besides mesmerising you with budget friendly offers it is sure to provide you with the memories of a lifetime. Despite many people’s misconceived notions, you could actually have a wonderful trip to Japan without spending a wagon load of money. One of the sure shot ways to keep your costs under the belt for the Japanese journey is to figure out the cheapest times to visit Japan. As in life, travelling is all about the right timing.

So, if you are looking for the cheapest times to travel to Japan, here are 5 handy tips to time your trip perfectly and the most budget-friendly ways:

1. Plan your trip in early winters or late fall:

One of the best ways to ensure a budget friendly Japan trip is to plan the trip during those times of the year when the least number of Japanese are travelling inside or outside their country. This brings us to the time period between September and November, which implies that there are few holidays of note going on during this time period, and ensures that their children are directed in schools and there is lesser rush at the travel destinations across Japan.

 

2. Alternately late winters or early spring caters a cheap time as well:

Late winters to early spring marks another low tourist season for the Japanese travel which rounds off from February to March. Like the September through November time period, these months witness relatively lesser crowds at the airports and ground transportation systems.

3. Keep away on the New Year and Golden Week:

Another way to save money is to avoid travelling to Japan when the tourist season is at its peak which is during the New Year (specifically the last week of December and the first week of January). Not to forget, the Golden Week which marks the commencing of a series of Japanese holidays at the end of April and lasts till the first week of May. During the course of these major Japanese holidays, the Japanese are fully out and about, which not only increases the travel rates but also makes things more congested.

4. Travel Midweek:

Another way to keep your money intact is to book your tickets for mid-week travel. This works wonders to help you cut your travel costs down and keeps your tour and travel budget-friendly.

5. Be a smart traveller, compare the prices with different agencies:

Last but not the least, keep a close vigil at the different air carriers: you might be surprised to realize how much different the price of your tickets will be when you explore a little for the best rates and fares. One must consider these 5 tips to keep one’s Japan trip budget-happy through proper timing and savvy shopping.

Unique School Events in Japan

Living in Japan, what I personally found was rather unique to European and American counterparts, were the school events hosted in the majority of schools throughout the country. The enthusiasm as every single pupil takes part (no one is left out), and the range of activities they do, at an almost traditional basis is truly interesting, and worth reading about, if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience so yourself.

Here are my 3 most memorable Japanese school events, which I will describe and hopefully provide some interesting insight into:

  1. Music Festival (音楽会 – Ongakku-kai)

Having lived in Japan, and attended elementary school, I can say that the biggest shock I have acquired moving to school was learning how to play a music instrument. Students will typically have music lessons at least twice a week in their timetable, and this spans about 45 minutes each time, in elementary school. The room would definitely have a grand piano, as all music teachers are required to know how to play, and students will start by warming up through singing. A ‘song of the month’ will be chosen, as every class (regardless of age or grade), will practice it to come together on the last weekly assembly of the month to sing it in the auditorium – this is a truly amazing experience. Further, this song will be played during lunchtimes as background music to accustom the students to the lyrics. 

Everyone, without fail, plays the recorder, and thus learns basic music theory and how to sight read from a young age. Thus, everyone has mandatory music knowledge. 

      2. Sports Festival (体育会 – Taiiku-kai)

Sports Festival is participated by everyone in the school, and you cannot have an excuse not to participate. This usually happens in autumn, which in Japan is classified as the season of reading books and playing sport (which they keep up, and actively promote to their students).Usually the school divides into two teams – the reds and whites (some schools have more colors), and students wear hats to divide themselves. There are typically two classes per a grade, so this is perfect as they battle fair and square. Students start off with social exercises under a radio stretching program, and numerous events which they have prepared for at least a month, take place as both teams accumulate points. The most spectacular program is by far the team gymnastics demonstrated by the eldest 2 grades, as they form complex gymnastic structures (such as the 4 level people pyramid). Everyone also participates in the team cheers, as the whole school learns the lyrics andperforms them on the day, which is truly funny and spectacular. 

     3. Cultural Festivals (文化祭 – Bunnka-sai)

Lastly, the cultural festivals hosted by each school every year (again around autumn time to appreciate the book-reading season), is a fun, usually one-day or weekend event, where each class makes their own workshops, and invites the local community to participate. This truly strengthens the community spirit, as well as class teamwork as everyone has a role and participates. Students may host games, or create horror house walkthroughs, or host cafes. Theclassrooms get decorated to such an extent, as beyond recognition. Parents usually take up the role of food dispensers, as dads start to cook local festival foods for the people to enjoy. Schools in Tokyo, especially private ones, see this as an excellent opportunity for an open day, so they can go full-out and make this event truly spectacular with many performances and activities hosted throughout the day, to encourage students to apply to their school. 

 

Unique facts about Japanese office workers

There is no secret that office workers are classified as office-planktons in the wide ocean of work. They are known to have gruesome timetables, work in a small cubicle and dress in the appropriate office-plankton fashion. Japanese office workers also known as salarymen are a of a different league from normal office workers which we see daily on public transport, or see stereotypically depicted in films (or even, the introduction of this article). On average, such individuals work over 65 hours a week! It is extremely difficult to acquire a good working / life balance in Japan due to the strenuous professions, however this is extremely admirable as well. Japanese people have an extreme sense of contribution to society, and feel a duty to support their families as a pay back for their support during their career. This community contribution spirit is extremely admirable – to me personally – as I have never seen this anywhere else in any other country. The sense of reward is immense! Combining both this strenuous work ethic and the differing mindset, gives you a perfect blend of Japanese salarymen. Here are some interesting facts about such office workers, which you probably haven’t heard of before:

  1. They definitely work longer than the typical 9-5 hours

Japanese people find it disrespectful to leave before your boss does, meaning they stay until 11-12pm no problem, working away. This is especially tough during the summer period, as the hot humid weather continues to the midnight – it can be as hot as 28 degrees Celsius at 11pm in the hottest days, which is almost impossible to work in. They typically have a air conditioner next to them at all times, during moments like this. At 5pm, a special school-like bell goes off, which represents the end of what would be a normal shift in many institutions, but it is known that the majority stay to work longer. Some workers bring special bed covers so they can sleep in at their office, rather than wasting time and money on public transport (however the public transport money dies get refunded). Imagine that in Europe!

2. Catching trains – all day, every day  
A typical office worker’s schedule in Japan is extremely busy. They wake up to catch one of the busy, super crowded trains in the early morning (just like the Tube in London), which are always jam-packed. After finishing work, which I remind you is usually before midnight,  they usually run to get the last train to get home, so it is very typical to see a huge crowd at midnight. Some people cannot make it to the last train, so they have to stay in a local motel for a night to return back to work, or take quite a pricey taxi. Men usually stay in a capsule hotel, or some even sleep in parks. In the summer, it is a common sight to see an office worker sleeping on a park bench, as the weather is quite warm anyway. The majority sleep on the train if they can, so it isn’t a rare sight to see a professional suited man snoring through the whole carriage.

3. Uniform all year long

What I find is the most amazing aspect of such workers is that they wear these official, what-you-would-expect suits all year long in the same weather. Be it raining or hit and humid, they will never take off a layer or put on an extra layer of clothes. Even in the scorching hot weather, they wear full on black suits, and this is in temperatures of about 35 degrees Celsius. In the winter, no one puts on extra layers. Workers treasure their uniform and take great pride of wearing such clothing with upmost responsibility. When taking the public transport however, especially in the summer, some women find it uncomfortable standing next to such men, as they perspire a lot – so statistics actually show that women carriages in trains, tend to be more full in the summer rather than winter for this reason. (and yes, Japan has women carriages – usually one or two cars at the head of the train, which are a ‘no men’ zone for a few hours in the morning. This is really convenient and generally, the air smells much better in the summer xD )

4. Morning gymnastics

Another interesting fact, which surprises a lot foreigners, is that these office workers come into work early morning to do some morning gymnastics. They all stand in a line in front of their respected company, and one person would count out loud, as the others will reply while doing exercises. This healthy lifestyle plans were put into place as a measure, as there were many negative connotations surrounding Japanese office workers’ health. This typically happens in the morning, and some of the youtube clips have gone viral, as this isn’t typically seen in other countries elsewhere. 

Warm-ups are taken very seriously before sport. Further, there is a video called Jyunnbi-taiso (also known as the Rajio Jyunnbi-taiso) – the English equivalent being “radio morning gymnastics”, which almost everyone uses as a warm-up guide in the mornings, and this is broadcasted on the radio to help people feel more awake in the morning, and ready to get a head start to their day. This promotes healthy wellbeing, and a positive motivational mindset – both physically and mentally a good start. Combine this with some nutritional balanced meals and you get one of the most healthiest nations in the world! It’s quite a rare sight to see someone overweight, which is hard to imagine in the US or Europe counterparts.

 

 

5. Negative facts

Japanese office workers are known to work-hard, but party twice as hard on the weekends. However, recently they got some negative spotlight, as a worker died from a heart attack at the young age of 26. This is due to overworking and over stressing over office work. Thus, new regulations were presented by the government, to ease the workload and to prioritize the citizen’s health over the Japanese work ethic traditions.

This phenomenon is known as ‘Karoshi’, which in its literal translation means ‘died from overworking’. This phenomenon is known by other sayings in China and Korea, but is generally categorized as overwork-induced suicides. 

Further, a lot of office workers (usually male), become divorcees as they spend little time with their families, making it hard to support their children growing up. Some cannot even find a partner, as they spend most of their time at work, and sometimes even dedicate their weekends. 

10 Things to Do in Tokyo with Kids

Ferris wheel on Odaiba in TokyoTokyo is not just for adults! It’s an excellent place to take your kids to – fun, lively, safe, clean (no jabs or pills needed!) and with more things for your kids to enjoy than you could possibly ever fit in. Balance your temple and shrine visiting with some of the more kid-friendly activities and you will have a family trip that ticks boxes for you all. So why not introduce your kids to a different culture in an exciting city that is bound to entertain and amaze them.

Top Tips for Tokyo with Kids: 

  • Strollers vs. carrier – travelling with very small children? Think carefully how you are going to transport them around. Tokyo is not necessarily the most stroller friendly city. Public transport is crowded, aisles in shops are small and streets often narrow. On the other hand you will be doing a vast amount of walking. You can often rent strollers at attractions and some major department stores so this may be a good compromise
  • Babies and toddlers – all department stores have baby changing facilities. Looking for food and nappies/diapers? You will find them in pharmacies rather than supermarkets or convenience stores. 
  • Many attractions offer discounts for different age groups so make sure to ask.
  • The best toy shops in Tokyo (in the world?) are Kiddyland in Harajuku and Hakuhinkan in Ginza. There is also a feast of character goods underneath Tokyo Station in Character Street. Check out this shopping guide for more info.

In a city full of awesome options, how do you choose what to do with your kids? Here are 10 of the best:

1. Ghibli Museum    

This quirky museum sits on the edge of Inokashira Park and showcases the work of Studio Ghibli (Japan’s Disney). The company is responsible for amazing animated films such as ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and fan favourite ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. 

The museum is full of imagination and places to explore. There is no set route, you wander throughout the museum however you choose – through the maze of corridors, up the big spiral staircase and across walkways. It is filled with colourful stained glass windows, painted ceilings and cute little nods to the films in the architecture.

Highlights are the rooftop garden with its big robot statue from ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’, the large Catbus and the small theatre where you can watch short Ghibli animations. These are in Japanese yet are simple enough to enjoy anyway. The whole museum is truly a delight to visit and well worth the effort of getting tickets for. Speaking of which, the tickets contain actual parts of the 35mm film prints used in theatres. A super cool souvenir!

Website

Getting there: Take the JR Chuo line to Mitaka station. Then it’s either an easy 15 minute stroll or a short bus ride.  

Buying tickets: You have to get your tickets in advance – there is no buying tickets on the door. All the information you need for this is here. Entry costs: 19 years+ ¥1000;  13 – 18 years ¥700;  7 – 12 years ¥400; 4 – 6 years ¥100

Opening times: The museum is open 10:00 to 18:00 every day except Tuesdays. It closes periodically throughout the year.

2. Tokyo Dome City: 

This mega entertainment complex in the middle of Tokyo has something for family members of all ages. The Tokyo Dome stadium hosts various exhibitions, sports and music events and  is home to the resident Yomiuri baseball team. 

Photo from Pixabay

Next to the Dome sits Tokyo Dome City Attractions amusement park (open 10:00 to 21:00). You will find plenty of rides and attractions squeezed in this small space. Kids of all ages will find something here from the thrill seekers ride ‘Thunder Dolphin’ to the more child friendly ‘Furi Furi Grand Prix’ and the world’s first spokeless ferris wheel ‘Big O’. The park is free to enter with various passes on offer for the rides.

On top of all this, you can find the natural hot spring spa complex ‘La Qua’. Not to mention bowling, roller skating and the indoor play ground ASOBono. Phew! Only a couple of things to do at Tokyo Dome then! 

Website

Getting there: There are various ways of getting to the Tokyo Dome complex. The main ones are the JR Chuo line to Suidobashi station or the Marunouchi subway line to Korakuen station. 

 

3. Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation)

This museum makes science and technology cool! It looks at human life, space and innovation through superb interactive displays and activities. Children can see a demo of Asimo the humanoid robot, play  with a hands on model of the internet and learn about how science impacts their lives. The big Earth globe hanging in the museum is a great way to see how Earth looks from space. Using information from weather satellites and super high precision organic LEDs, the globe provides a very visual experience.

Photo by ColobusYeti

Website

Getting there: Fune no Kagakukan or Telecom Center stations on the Yurikamome line are about 5 minutes walk. Alternatively it is a 15 walk from Tokyo Teleport station on the Rinkai line.

Entry Cost: Adults ¥620, 18 years and under ¥210 (free o Saturdays), preschoolers free.

Opening times: Miraikan is open from 10:00 to 17:00 every day except Tuesday

 

4. Tokyo Sea Life Park:

A superb aquarium filled with marine life from Japan and elsewhere especially from the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans. There is a big focus on showing the aquatic life of the shorelines around the Tokyo area as well as the seas surrounding Japan. 

One of the highlights of the aquarium is the penguins. The aquarium has Humboldt, Rockhopper and Little Penguins. You can see them both on the land and as they move through the water against the backdrop of Tokyo Bay. There is also a touch pool where you can have close encounters with marine creatures such as rays. 

The bonus with the Sea life Park is that after your fun with the colourful fishes, you can head to the surrounding Kaisai Rinkai Park built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. In the park you can find the ‘Diamond and Flowers’ ferris wheel (one of the tallest in Japan) as well as beaches, the ‘Crystal Wall’ observation building, a sea bird sanctuary and plenty of big open spaces for running around in. 

Website

Getting there: Take the JR Keiyo line to Kasai Rinkai Koen station.

Cost: Adults (16 +) ¥700, 65 years + ¥350. students (13 – 15) ¥250, 12 years and under free.

Opening times: Open from 9:30 to 17:00 every day except Wednesdays.

5. The Railway Museum:  

It is well worth the effort to get to this museum in Saitama just outside of Tokyo. Especially if you have a train enthusiast in the family. The museum is huge with opportunities to walk in, under and around 36 trains from the last 150 years from steam to shinkansen.

Photo by ColobusYeti

The museum manages to be educational and fun at the same time. There are miniature driving trains to drive around a small track, a 1200m railway diorama and you can even drive a Yamanote line train in the simulator hall. Top your trip off with some time on the rooftop watching shinkansen zoom past.

Website

Getting there: Take the New Shuttle from JR Omiya station to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan station. JR Omiya station  is 25 minutes by shinkansen or 30 minutes by local train from central Tokyo.

Entry cost: adults ¥1000, 5 -18 years ¥500, preschool (3-5) ¥200

Opening times: 10:00 – 18:00, closed on Tuesdays.

6. Joypolis and Legoland: 

Two indoor mini theme parks right next to each other and appealing to different age groups.

Joypolis is an indoor amusement park probably more suited to teenagers and young adults. It is packed full of simulators and rides. There are thrill seeking rides such as ‘Halfpipe Tokyo’ and ‘Storm G’ (a fully rotating bobsleigh) alongside lasertag games and spooky virtual reality.  It’s not just rides – there are plenty of arcade games alongside more old-fashioned games such as air hockey.

Website

Entry costs: Entry only is¥800 (adults 18+) and ¥500 (5 – 17 years). Ride tickets can be bought inside or you can get a passport that covers entry and rides (¥4300 for adults and ¥3300 for kids). Night and Late Night passports exist too. 

Opening hours: 10:00 to 22:00

Sitting at the opposite end of the Decks mall is this firm favourite of younger children worldwide. Legoland is a mini theme park with 3 rides including a laser quest type game, a superb 4D cinema and multiple opportunities for building things. You can get your kids to make their own special brick in the Lego factory and marvel at Miniland, a Lego version of Tokyo complete with moving trains and day to night effect.

Ticket costs: 3 years + ¥24000. You can buy advanced tickets for a fixed date and time for ¥1950 (weekdays) and ¥2100 (weekends) 

Opening hours: 10.00 to 20:00 (weekdays) and 10:00 to 21:00 (weekends)

Getting to Joypolis and Legoland: Kaihin Kouen station on the Yurikamome line is right outside. Alternatively Tokyo Teleport station on the Rinkai line is 5 minutes walk away.

7. Tokyo Toy Museum

You will find the Tokyo Toy Museum inside an old elementary school building in Shinjuku. It is chock full of over 10000 non-electric toys from over 100 countries. You will also find plenty of staff to help out with toys and play along with your children.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

You can visit exhibitions as well as workshops where your children can make their own toys. And of course there are toys everywhere. There are toys to support learning in the ‘Good Toy Gallery’, scientific toys, musical instruments, board games in the ‘Game Salon’ and traditional Japanese toys in the ‘Toy Square’. You can also find a wooden ball pond plus a specially designed wooden baby room. 

Website

Getting there: Both Yotsuya-sanchome (Marunouchi  line) and Akebonobashi (Shinjuku line) stations are approximately 7-8 minutes away.

Entry cost: 12 years + ¥800  11 years and under ¥500. You can buy a child + adult ticket for ¥1200.

Opening times: 10:00 to 16:00, every day except Thursdays

8. Hanayashiki Amusement Park:

Kids a little reluctant to visit the shrines and temples in Tokyo? This amusement park might be just the answer. You can encourage a visit to the lively Senso-ji temple (probably the most kid friendly temple in Tokyo anyway) by letting them know it is right next to an amusement park. Hanayashiki is the oldest theme park in Japan and has a retro old-fashioned feel to it.

Hanayashiki is tiny yet packs in more than enough to entertain the family for a few hours. There are a few thrill seeking rides for the adventurous ones in the family such as ‘Space Shot’. Quirky rides such as ‘Helicopter’ where you pedal around on an elevated track. Plus plenty of child friendly rides. Make sure you keep your eyes open for the Panda cars that you can sit on and ride around the park.

One of the best things about Hanayashiki is not any of the rides. It is the alternative view from the Sky Plaza looking out over Senso-ji towards the Sky Tower. You can get an even better view if you ride the ‘Bee Tower’. Here the small houses rise up 45mm giving a stunning view over Asakusa.  

Website

Getting there: Take either the Ginza or Asakusa subway line to Asakusa station. Hanayashiki is about 5 minutes on foot.

Cost : There is an admission cost to get into the park with the rides costing extra. You can check out the options for single tickets and passes here.

Opening times: 10:00 to 18:00 

9. Kidzania: 

Tokyo has one of the increasingly popular Kidzania attractions designed for children aged 3-15 years. Your children can play in a mini city trying out adult jobs and earning ‘money’. The city has shops, bank, tv station, hospital, vehicles etc with nearly 100 jobs to choose from. Your child can spend the KidZos they earn to spend on leisure activities or in the shops.  And no adults are allowed in!

Most activities are in Japanese although some are in English. Not knowing Japanese does not stop children trying any job though. They can give anything a go! If you’d prefer more English assistance, try going on a Wednesday. Kidzania has ‘English Wednesday’ with about half of the activities being run in English.

Website

Getting there: Take either the Yurikamome line or Yurakucho line to Toyosu station.

Getting a ticket: Prices for Kidzania are a little complicated to explain so best to take a look at all the options here. You can make reservations up to 4 months in advance and you would be wise to do so, this place is very popular.

Opening times: There are two ‘shifts’ daily at Kinzania. The first is from 9:00 to 15:00 and the second is 16:00 to 21:00.

10. Disney Tokyo Resort:

The big daddy of things to do with your kids in Tokyo. The Tokyo Disney Resort is as popular and busy as you would expect, especially at weekends. Tokyo Disney is split into two parks. Disneyland is traditional Disney and is based on Disneyland in California and Magic Kingdom in Florida. It has all the standard rides such as Dumbo and Pirates of the Caribbean often with a slight twist and of course Cinderella’s castle.

Photo from Pixabay

Tokyo DisneySea has a nautical theme with ‘ports of call’ and is designed more for older kids and adults although it does have rides for small kids.  It is the only one of its kind in the world and has many unique rides. ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage’ are amongst the park’s most popular rides and the ‘Toy Story Mania’ ride is considered the best version of any Disney park.

Disney is very English friendly with important signs and food menus in English plus you can find English assistance if needed.  The amazing shows on offer will tend to be in Japanese although songs are often in English and the visuals can still be enjoyed.

Getting there: Take the JR Keiyo line or JR Musashino line to Maihama stations.

Opening times: These differ from park to park and day to day. You can check them out on the Disney website.

Park tickets: There is the usual various options for park tickets that you would expect from Disney. So again best to check the website.

 

All photos by Joanna Maguire unless otherwise stated.

Brought up in Japan and Living to tell the tale

  Being brought up in Japan is probably one of the most unique life experiences one can have – the blend of unique culture aspects, the prominently changing seasons and the efficiency of the main cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto stand out to any foreigner who may visit.

  Being an insider into this education process and the culture of Japan makes me extremely proud to have been a part of such a system. Living to tell the tale such as this one would be of interest to anyone who has never had insight into such way of living.

Education in Japan

  The education system plays a large part of a child growing up in Japan, and is worldwide known to be efficient and demanding. Schools and universities start in April, uniquely different to the rest of the education systems, which we are typically used to.

  Summer holidays typically start at the end of July, and span through to September – students are recommended to stay at home during the humid and extremely unbearable hot seasons of the summer. The education system is clearly structured, and is a couple of years/levels ahead typical systems in the UK, US and some in Europe.

  Mathematics is known to be very difficult in Asia in general, and kids grow up with critical thinking skills rising above many. Kids who fall back are given extra care and support, as the community and social spirit is always in place.

  Studying is absolutely crucial, and homework is issued by a daily basis. This helps children to adjust to the work ethic, as it gradually builds with age leading to university. This teaches determination, motivation and ambition. Motivation, by itself is crucial, as homeroom teachers play an extremely important role of not only being a class instructor/teacher, but also a guardian to its students.

  For example, if someone got an injury and couldn’t make it to school for a week because he was in a hospital, a homeroom teacher can visit and bring fruits and many presents from the classmates as a booster. This again, confirms the social entity of the Japanese nation, as they are extremely supportive of each other, especially if one of the members happens to fall behind.

The Gakari System

  Lunchtime in elementary schools in Japan is definitely something unique. School meals are balanced – with a school nutritionist working to provide the best and most healthy meal to over a thousand young pupils.

  Every week, a new group of pupils are nominated to be the 給食係(kyuushyoku gakari) – the so-called “lunch crew”. They get ready for lunch by putting on face masks, tying their hair back, putting on a bandana, and wearing a white lunch robe to prevent any microbes getting on the food. They collectively go to the food bank where each class has their own set of large pots and cutlery to collect the lunch of the day, which they further distribute to the class.

   This Gakari crew changes weekly, and gives everyone a chance of distributing food, and teaches responsibility. Other gakari include those responsible for being class president, for specific subjects and sports gakari, which are responsible for conducting the warm up when conducting physical education. Before eating, the class waits so everyone is seated before a class representative of the day reads out what the menu is, and where the food is brought from, as well as any interesting facts and nutritional values.

  After lunch, the whole class cleans up the dishes and returns the pots to the food bank. This is the time when cleaning starts. Every class has different cleaning groups, and different places in the school for which they are responsible for cleaning – for example a music classroom, the gym, or the pathway up to school.

  Each class is assigned a restroom, and everyone usually dreads the week where they have to clean it. These cleaning groups change places upon rotation, and once again teach how to clean and be hygienic with responsibility and independence. Teachers usually do not help out, but come nearer to the end to check up on the cleaning and dismiss you for lunchtime break. Only once you have cleaned and the teacher is satisfied, can you be dismissed.

  Everyone cleans, and this is without any exception. Usually, jobs are decided upon a game of rock-paper-scissors. Some people brush up the dust and the floor, as the tables are moved to either side of the classroom (very heavy and tedious work), and some go behind them and wash the floor with a special rag. Everyone brings their own to school, and sometimes there are some rags, which are seen, more prestigious than that of others.

japanese school lunch

  Roles are also given at duties during lunchtimes and breaks. These do not change upon rotation and are maintained throughout the whole year. These are roles such as being the class president (not the daily representative), helping out in the library or if you are a senior elementary school pupil might sometimes include helping out in the younger classes. Once again, this requires punctuality, responsibility and everyone has to attend without exception.

  Twice a week, students attend clubs after schools – usually in the form of an active sports club or a literature/art club. This is usually provided by many schools, and is something to look forward to. These do not change with rotation, and gives a chance for pupils to meet others in other classes and other year groups. Age is irrelevant as everyone cooperates to learn new skills and find new passions.

  After school, the majority of the pupils attend an after-school club, known as juku, which teaches them math, and literary skills, which can be used at school. This is similar to that of KUMON in the US, which has taken a popular turn in the recent decade. Thus elementary school students typically head home for 7-8pm which is something that would be rarely seen in the US or European countries otherwise. Tutors are popular as well, but they are more prominent towards high school students who are preparing to embark on their university journeys.

Seasonal change

  Graduation ceremonies in Japan are held at the end of elementary, middle and high schools as a way of a formal celebration of a life milestone. Entrance ceremonies are taken very seriously as well – with students sometimes getting disks with their school hymn to memorize before the events. This is the formality of generations. 

  During the ever-changing seasons of Japan, going from the unbearable hot and humid weather to the cold, dry and snowy (depends where you live) climate, students are taught to be coherent with their clothing. For example, in the summer, students survive by bringing thermos flasks filled with water or juice topped with ice cubes, to make it through the day.

  In the winter, students aren’t allowed to wear extra clothing in order to become accustomed to the cold climate. Thus, girls start to wear extra long stocking (as tights aren’t allowed either), and boys start to put on extra sweaters underneath the official school gym clothing. The result however, is that the children are much more accustomed to the cold weather, and thus do not require to heat the house more to feel warmer, saving much energy.

Households

  The average Japanese household is known to be very small – all of the bedrooms are tiny. Skyscraper flats are very small, but are optimized in such a way to make it convenient for living.

  Every piece of furniture is thought through and may have several functions. Tatami rooms, or rooms with bamboo floor mats, can be seen in some houses, and are usually used during the summer when it is extremely hot.

  Futons are used, instead of beds, as traditionally, mattresses are rolled out onto the floor, and rolled together once again after the person sleeps. They are further placed behind special rice paper doors during the day, as the compartments are big enough to hold them.

  The Japanese air-con, is a must in every family. It serves as a heater during the winter, and as an air conditioner during the summer. It is extremely functionable, and I have not seen a single Japanese family without one in their house. They are quite expensive, but once purchased, they are maintained for long-term use. There is one in every main room.

  During the winter, families use the kotatsu which is a special low-kneeled table (usually quite large and square), with a mattress covered over, and a heater underneath to warm up during the season. The whole family puts their feet underneath the covers, which are warmed up, and thus once again, conserve energy, as the whole house isn’t heated – unlike the European communities.

  In middle and high school, the same rotes and club responsibilities are withheld. However, a student may only choose one main club, which he can commit to throughout the school career. This club is extremely important, especially if the student is looking to apply to university. Rumors have it that a club can decide a university placement, as it can be linked profession wise. Thus, schools are extremely serious about offering the best variety of clubs and school activities.

  Changing to university, pupils are said to become less motivated, as getting into university (especially a prestigious one with a prestigious occupation), is usually one of their main and most prominent life goals. Thus, if their professions aren’t law or medicine, many become demotivated, and are more focused on enjoying uni life – to get back all the effort that they put in during elementary school.

Transport 

  Transport plays a vital role in the life of any Tokyo citizen – especially those who live in the main cities of Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto (and likes). If the announcement says that the train is set to come in at 15:34, then the train will definitely come at 15:34. The efficient structure of the main railways, and the social rules are held, as everyone collectively works together to achieve precise efficiency.

  Students who go to middle and high school often have to travel to and from school on a daily basis (especially because some club activities require to be there during the weekends as well). It is not a surprise that many elementary school children who go to private elementary schools take the train in the mornings as well. In fact, it is a surprising sight for foreigners to see nursery school children taking the public transport as early as 6am.

  Japan is an extremely safe country, and thus, this does not pose any problems for the public. For example, you can head out early in the morning, just after midnight, and you are guaranteed to be safe, unlike in the European counterparts.

  A typical middle school student day might look like so:
     – Get up at 5:30 am to dress, eat
     – Walk to the bus station at 6:30
     – Taking the bus at 6:45
     – Taking several trains with different rail lines, to arrive at school for 8:20
     – Further, staying at school until lessons finish at 5pm
     – Staying for club activities until 8pm
     – Taking the train and bus home to get home by 10pm as you have to study in the local library or at home
  and the same graphic repeats daily. During the weekends, students usually spend time to catch up on homework.

  What I find fascinating is that students as early as 6 are taught in school on how to cook, sew and use tools for construction. Girls and boys do this without exception. Further, everyone does physical education as this is mandatory, and they keep up the healthy lifestyles all the way until they become the elderly.

  The social mindset is very prominent in the community, as I have said earlier – everyone tries to help each other out. I remember in elementary school, there was a boy who used to pay with matches a lot and loved to play with fire. Obviously, the homeroom teacher intervened and called for a parents class meeting, asking if anyone is going to the countryside during his or her weekend holiday.

  The boy’s classmates’ parents were going on a picnic and decided to bring him along to teach the importance of fire and how to correctly use it, which he has done ever since.

  Many unique factors come into play when you grow up in a Japanese society. However, it is an upmost pleasure to bring about my experience on being brought up in Japan and living to tell the tale.

Why Visiting Japan Again is a MUST

There’s nothing quite like one’s first trip to Japan. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, or someone looking to decide which country to visit next, the Land of the Rising Sun always has something to offer for everyone. But after you’ve gone on your first trip, surely you still have yet to see what the rest the country has to offer.

Japanese lanterns at night. Photo by hempelfrankfurt.

So for those undecided about the question of planning another Japan trip, here are the reasons why visiting Japan again is a MUST.

Japan might just seem like a tiny set of islands, but in reality, it’s jam-packed with unforgettable sights and experiences that you wouldn’t want to miss out on:

Each city has its own diverse culture

For example, Tokyo—because it’s one of the biggest cities in the world ever, some have even said that it makes more sense to think of Tokyo as its own country, and we think that’s the way to go! A quick Google search on Japan travel ideas shows countless forum articles on the often-discussed battle of which city to visit on a first time trip: Tokyo vs Kyoto. And of course, Japan isn’t just those two cities: there’s also Nagoya and its Nagoya castle, Kamakura’s Great Buddha statue, Hakone’s hot springs, and more—so it’s only natural that there’s so much to see and experience next time.

Blending the old and the new, the presence of the traditional and modern cultures of Japan means that there is twice as much to enjoy depending on how one plans their trip

Japan has had a long-standing reputation for its capacity for preserving its traditional culture—from castles that have stood for hundreds of years, palaces still maintained and visited regularly, kimonos being worn even when there are no special occasions and such—but over the years, and into contemporary times, Japan began to be known for its quite unique modern quirks, which, for the tourist means getting to experience a magical blend of old and new.

A quiet street in Tokyo. Photo by Vince Justiniano.
A quiet street in Tokyo. Photo by Vince Justiniano.

Aside from cherry blossoms and shrines, almost everyone thinks of Japan when Pikachu, Gundam, or anime are mentioned: this is truly a testament to the country’s wide cultural reach all across the world.

Japan’s climate = seasons, and seasons = unique experiences to have at different times of year!

River of cherry blossoms in Tokyo. Photo by Pexels.

The best part of a country with a climate like Japan is that each season of the year has something to look forward to. Skiing on the snow can be had in the northernmost parts of the Japan, even as the rest of the country is already enjoying springtime. And of course, arguably the most iconic symbol of Japan, the cherry blossoms, which only bloom at a certain time of the year. (Make sure you’ve caught up with the annual Cherry Blossom Forecast when you’re planning your trip, though!)

Mount Fuji. Photo by koshinuke_mcfly.

So if you catch yourself in one of Japan’s tourist hotspots, you might feel like there’s so much to do, and that everyone seems like they’re in a hurry, especially in the morning rush hour. But remember, you’re in Japan for a vacation, so there’s no need to rush.

We hope that you can take it easy and really soak in the sights and sounds with the peace of mind that there will be a next time, and that you will be able to set foot once more in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Overall, Japan truly lives up to its name (and beyond) as a travel destination, and with its diverse and varied cultures within its different cities, it’s a place that one simply has to come back to again someday.

Crowdsourced Japan Travel Guide & Showcase of Japan Tour Plans