Japan’s White Day ( ホワイトデー )

white day

Photo courtesy aringoaday.com

As we have already established, Valentine’s Day (Februaury 14th) in Japan is observed by females giving chocolates to the males in their lives (be it out of love, obligation or courtesy).

However, one month later (March 14th), the reverse occurs: the males who were fortunate to receive either honmei-choco ( chocolate of love) or giri-choco ( courtesy chocolate) on Valentine’s Day; return the girls’ gestures with gifts of their own.

Considered a a day of return; it is called “White Day ” ( ホワイトデー Howaito Dē).

Gifts and sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し)

white day cartoon

Photo courtesy: http://www.japantimes.co.jp  ( I had to share this clever strip!)

Looking for some White Day gifts to purchase but have no idea what to get? Here is a list of some of the most popular presents given on this day:

  • White Chocolate
  • Jewelry
  • Flowers
  • Marshmallows
  • Sentimental Gifts
  • White Clothing / Lingerie

These gifts are normally packaged in white boxes and may come with stylish, white bags to put them in.

To avoid any awkward situations from occuring; please do not give clothing / lingerie to anyone who:

  • is NOT your wife
  • is NOT your girlfriend
  • gave you obligation chocolate
  • gave you courtesy chocolate

This is a V E R Y personal gift. Please use caution!

But before you run out to purchase your gifts, there is a general rule of thumb that males adhere to on this day…. and it is that of sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し): the returning present should be three times the cost of the Valentine’s gift!

This is the main reason why the prices of white chocolate and other favoured items are observed to be more expensive around this date…sorry guys!

And, if as a guy you think there is a possibility of using the excuse that, “I forgot,” would suffice… think again.

Soon after Valentine’s Day, everywhere one looks, there is some sort of reminder that White Day is fast approaching. Supermarkets, department stores, train stations, television, popular bakeries and confectioneries all over Japan have advertisements, products and other reminders about White Day …. so there is no running away from it!

History of White Day

white-day-1Uniquely Japanese, it is sadly a fairly recent celebration created in 1978 by the National Confectionery Industry Association to boost sales and revenue.

Initially, it was called ‘Marshmallow Day‘ (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). This was due to the marketing of marshmallows to men by the Japanese confectioner company called Ishimuramanseido.

However, marshmallows were not as well-liked, and soon the gift of choice changed to chocolate… but white chocolate to keep with the theme of “white”. This in turn, eventually led to the day being renamed as “White Day”.

Although this day is of Japanese innovation; its popularity has allowed it to spread to neighbouring East Asian countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Valentine’s Day (バレンタインデイ) in Japan

You are watching your favourite (school life) anime and you come across an episode where it is all about the dreaded yet much-anticipated ‘Valentine’s Day’.

So, what makes this day in Japan to stand out so much… especially to Westerners?

The main reason being……

O n l y       F e m a l e s       G i v e       C h o c o l a t e      ! ! ! !


Photo courtesy hako toshokan.

In the West, both men and ladies celebrate Valentine’s Day by showering upon their loved ones with extravagant gifts of flowers, jewelry, heart-shaped chocolates, expensive dinners… Some men even use this romantic opportunity to propose to their partners!

However, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is primarily an opportunity for females to express their love or interest in the males who have caught their fancy. It is the one day that a female is informally socially permitted (by herself and others) to muster the courage and declare (either openly or secretly) the affection she holds (and most likely has held) for a male by   presenting a special gift to him.

For a girl who has a special interest in a guy and is not sure about how he may feel about her;  Valentine’s Day is not only a special day but it is a day that could be anxiety driven yet very exhilarating and ‘freeing’. It is a day that stands out as a day that could change her life. One could probably argue that for some, it is a rite of passage (so to speak).


Types of Chocolates Given On Valentine’s Day


To avoid making people feel left out on Valentine’s Day (for example, at work ), there are presently four (4) different kinds of chocolates that are given by girls.

The type that is given depends largely upon two main factors:

  1.  It depends strongly upon whom the chocolates are given to and
  2. The meaning that the chocolate has from the giver to the receiver (the relationship that the giver has to the receiver).

It should be noted that since there are so many different chocolates given on Valentine’s Day; it is important to inform the person of the type of chocolate that is being presented to them. This is to avoid any confusion or awkward circumstances from occurring.

So, what are the four types of chocolate, you ask? Well, let’s get right into it . . . .


Honmei-Chocolate (本命チョコ)

Honmei-Chocolate means ‘home-made / favourite chocolate‘ or ‘chocolate of love‘.

It is a romantic chocolate – the kind of chocolate one gives to the one you want to express your love to. These chocolates tend to be of high quality, expensive or are even home-made.

The reason why a lot of honmei- chocolates are home-made is simple: the time and the effort that is undertaken in the making of the chocolates, present ladies with an opportunity to create and give a chocolate that is filled with their love and affection.


Giri-Chocolate (義理チョコ)

This means ‘obligatory / courtesy gift chocolate‘. It refers to the chocolate one has to give to people (usually male) bosses, co-workers, teammates or classmates, etc.. The chocolate is store-bought, not very expensive and there is no special meaning or feelings behind it.

Since it is an obligatory chocolate, rather than purchase a separate box of chocolates for each co-worker; it is perfectly acceptable to bring one nice box of wrapped chocolates to share with your office, class, team, etc..


Cho-Giri-Chocolate (超義理チョコ)

This is not just an obligatory chocolate … this is a ‘VERY obligatory / courtesy chocolate‘.

These chocolates tend to be very generic and are not expensive. They are normally given to  the following people:

  • Those with whom they do not know very well
  • Those with whom they are indifferent to.
  • Those with whom they do not like.
  • Those with whom they do not want to give chocolate to.


Tomo-Chocolate (友チョコ)

This type of chocolate is considered as “friend chocolate”. It is a more recent addition to the variety of Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolates.

It refers to the chocolates one gives to one’s female friends.


History And Marketing Of Valentine’s Day In Japan


In 1936, Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan by Morozoff Ltd.( a confectionery and cake company that was founded by the Russian emigrate – Fedor Dmitrievich Morozoff ).

Understanding that only foreigners in Japan would know what Valentine’s Day was; it ran the first ever Valentine’s advertisement campaign (in Japan ) in a publication that was geared towards foreigners.

It was, however, only after World War II  did Valentine’s Day start to take a foothold in Japan.

During this period, there was an influx of foreigners and most locals wanted to learn more about Western traditions. Japanese department stores and other manufacturers realized the popularity of Valentine’s Day among foreigners and saw the sales that it garnered for the Morozoff company. They too started advertising Valentine’s Day chocolates … not only to foreigners but to Japanese nationals as well. It was only then did it truly become a phenomenon.

To this day, very prominent displays of heart-shaped chocolates in various sizes, flavours, fillings and packaging can be seen in stores all across Japan.   These displays also feature the various tools required for those who wish to make their own honmei-choco.

It should be noted at this point the impact that Valentine’s Day has on chocolate companies in Japan: it provides them with more than half of their annual sales!

But one issue has always been unresolved…

It seems that when Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan, there was a mistake that never got amended: that only women gave chocolate to men. Although there are rumours and speculation ( that it was deliberately done by chocolate makers); how this happened is still not exactly clear.

Despite this error, the nation still actively participates in this event. One could argue that this error has allowed this special day to evolve over the years and be celebrated in a unique way that no other country in the world does it. Japan has successfully created its very own Valentine’s Day.


Foreigners’ Valentine’s Notes


Here are some useful tips for foreigners experiencing Valentine’s Day:

  •  If in a relationship with a Japanese male, remember that Japanese men are not expected to do anything on Valentine’s Day.
  • If in a relationship with a Japanese female, remember that she may not expect you to do anything on this day. She will, however, expect an expensive present one month later, on White Day (a follow-up article on this day will be posted soon ).
  • If one wishes to give your Japanese girlfriend | wife a gift for Valentine’s, ensure that the gift is small and does not cost too much. There is a rule of thumb regarding White Day gifts : the gift that is returned to the female on White Day, has to be three times the cost of the Valentine’s Day present that was given by the female. So, to avoid spending too much on both gifts, it is better to wait until White Day to get the more expensive present for the lucky lady in your life.
  • Once a foreigner is in a relationship with a Japanese national, it is advised to discuss the cultural differences regarding this event. Mention as well each other’s expectations of the day so as to avoid any awkward situations or misunderstandings that could occur on the day.
  •  A single foreigner, however, should enjoy the day by giving chocolates to both male and female friends, co-workers, etc.


One Quick Chocolate Recipe


After reading so much about Valentine’s Day and chocolates; it would be awful of me to not leave some sort of recipe that could maybe be of some help to someone who may be in a pinch.

This may not be the classic home-made chocolate, but it is quick and very versatile.


Ingredients / Utensils

  • Chocolate of your choice
  • A microwave (or stove top)
  • A chocolate/ice mold
  • A microwave safe bowl (or pot, if you are using the stove top)
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking Sheet pan
  • Whole strawberries – with leaves and stem, washed and dried
  • Toppings of your choice – nuts, sprinkles, cocoa powder, cake decorations, shredded coconut, dried fruit, etc.



  • To melt the chocolate, put it in a microwave bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir the chocolate for about a minute.
  • Return to the microwave and repeat this process two more times ( 30 seconds, remove and stir for one minute ).
  • As soon as the chocolate is completely melted, start pouring most of the chocolate into the molds – reserving some chocolate for the strawberries.
  • Once the chocolate is in the mold, toppings can be added. But it is perfectly normal to not add toppings.
  • Place the chocolate in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes  or until the chocolate hardens.When ready to distribute, simply pop the chocolate from the molds, place in pretty cupcake paper or wrap with coloured foil
  • With the strawberries, place parchment paper over a sheet pan.
  • While holding the top of the strawberry by its stem / leaves, gently dip it into the melted chocolate. Remove and hold above chocolate mixture to let the excess drain into the bowl.
  • Place on parchment paper and gently push the strawberry forward to prevent any excess chocolate from collecting around the strawberry. Repeat until chocolate and strawberries are finished.
  • Toppings could also be added to this point, but it could also be left plain.
  • Place sheet pan in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes to set. Strawberries should be kept in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve chilled to guests within 24 hours of making it.


Thank you for reading this article and I hope that it was informative, enjoyable and fun !

Christmas in Japan

Christmas Light Show in Sapporo 2013

Christmas Light Show in Sapporo, Hokkaido 2013

Oh yes – ‘Tis the season to be jolly!

In Trinidad, most businesses and companies close at midday on Christmas Eve to facilitate final Christmas preparations and gift purchasing. Then, we have both Christmas Day (25th December) and Boxing Day (26th December) as holidays. So, this year, we have a very long weekend starting from midday Wednesday this week!

For us, Christmas is a very big event which has the whole country starting its Christmas countdown soon after Divali Celebrations – which is normally in November. Every day, Christmas songs of yesteryear, today and local favourites could be heard on the radio and blaring in the malls. Parang groups return once again for their seasonal serenades; while the familiar smells of pastelles, roast turkey or ham, fruit and black cakes waft through the air.

The bustling is also enjoyable. Malls’ car parks are slowing bursting with cars that are forced to even park on its perimeter! Once inside, your eyes are overwhelmed by the moving sea of people with the mission of getting the perfect presents for their friends, families and loved ones. Pop-up flea markets appear all across the country offering a variety of goods at prices that rival big companies.

Most homes, businesses and even public areas are adorned with colourful lights, Christmas ornaments and decor. Freshly painted homes with new curtains, furniture and big televisions are a familiar sight. Even businesses get even more in the festive spirit by hosting Christmas parties, breakfast or lunch functions. Employees even participate in games like ‘Secret Santa‘, a gift exchange where a name is randomly drawn and you have to buy that person a nice present within a price range.

Of course, donations and presents to orphanages and families who cannot afford is also part of the experience of Christmas in Trinidad. Churches are also busy in their preparations of ceremonies to be conducted between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas Tree on display at the Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan

Christmas Tree on display at the Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan. See, I managed to sneak my little Coca Cola there in the picture!

You are probably wondering. ‘Why start with Christmas at home? When are you going to get to the topic – Christmas in Japan?

There are two reasons why I started with Christmas in my country of Trinidad:

  1. To highlight some of the traditions and customs from my country that may be the same with you, the reader, in his / her country.

2. To highlight that there may be some traditions and customs that may be different between our countries.

And if there are differences and similarities between our countries, the same could be said between Japan and your own country.

Additionally, I could only list the similarities and differences of Japan’s Christmas in relation to my own experience of Christmas in Trinidad. So, by giving one the idea of what Christmas is like in my country, one is able to better appreciate my perspective of Christmas in Japan.

So let’s get started on our Christmas experience in Japan!!!

Your eyes are not deceiving you – that is the Colonel all dressed up as Santa Claus!

In Japan, a barrel of chicken from KFC is as closely tied to Christmas, as your laces are tied to your shoes! The demand for it is so great that you have to preorder your barrel about 2 – 3 months in advance for Christmas!

So, where and when did this happen?

The story goes that a clever expat in the 1970’s commented that there was no roast turkey to celebrate the season and that the closest thing to it is KFC! An employee heard the comment and after a successful advertising campaign was launched, the rest was history!

Even if you do manage to miss placing that order, you could still go to an outlet and purchase your barrel – BUT BE WARNED! The lines are incredibly long and there is a very long wait!


Yes. You read that correctly.

In Japan, unless you applied for the day off, you would be off to work bright and early on Christmas morning.

So, to all expats living in Japan, it is essential to apply for those vacation days early well in advance if you want to enjoy your Christmas at home with friends and family – even if it is via Skype (like me).

Christmas Eve is considered to be a special and romantic time for couples.

Couples usually meet at a public location, go to a very nice restaurant, take a lovely stroll to see all of the lights that are on display and hopefully exchange meaningful gifts with each other.

It very much resembles the Valentine’s Day that we are accustomed to in the West.

Although it is very much a couple’s ‘holiday‘, people still purchase small gifts for their friends and / or loved ones if they want to show them a small token of appreciation.

Christmas is celebrated more on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day!

Remember that KFC barrel that you ordered months in advance?

Expect to most likely enjoy it with your loved ones on Christmas Eve!

Oh, and those presents?

Most Japanese families share their gifts on Christmas Eve as well!

They may not have Fruit Cake  . . . they may not have Black Cake . . . but by golly they have

C H R I S T M A S    C A K E!

This is a light sponge cake that is packed with fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

Families preorder their Christmas Cakes in advance and enjoy it in all of its yummy goodness  . . . .on Christmas Eve!

Courtesy of: http://endtimeobserver.blogspot.com

Courtesy of: endtimeobserver.blogspot.com

Although most people in Japan are either Shinto or Buddhist, less than one percent of the population is Christian!

There are churches throughout Japan that hold all of the religious ceremonies that are associated with Christmas on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

From my observations, Hokkaido seems to possess the most number of churches per prefecture than any other throughout Japan.

The Christmas Village in Sapporo features a number of novelty stalls - especially from Russia!

The Christmas Village in Sapporo features a number of novelty stalls – especially from Russia!

As stated before, less than one percent of the population in Japan is Christian.

To a number of Japanese people, Christmas is a time of novelty and romance – which spells  COMMERCIAL SUCCESS to businesses.

Big shopping centres invest in a lot of Christmas decorations and provide a lot of sales during this season – even on Christmas Day itself!

Although it is clearly a big commercial event during this time; the products and services that they provide are so novel, unique and manages to find and touch on some sort of nostalgia that resides within your heart – that it becomes incredibly endearing!

And then you HAVE to purchase that item to hold unto that feeling!!!!

There are old cartoons, characters, etc. that you grew up with but are no longer popular in the West, yet they are still well and alive in Japan! For example, my friends ‘Peter Rabbit‘ and ‘The Snowman‘ were available in such a variety of products, that I had to restrain myself from buying the lot!

And the sales – they are really good. You really do get items of excellent quality at very good prices.

Such effective marketing!

Just around Christmas, people in Japan attend at least one bōnenkai (忘年会). Its literal translation being ‘Forget the year gathering‘.

It is a Japanese drinking party (with lots of food) held at the end of year with groups of co-workers or friends at an izakaya, pub, or restaurant. It is a way to informally socialize, close the year on a high note and look forward to the new year.

At the bōnenkais that I have attended, staff organized games that were Christmas themed. They even organized a little gift exchange before the party ended.

Unless otherwise stated, each person has to confirm their attendance in advance and make a contribution towards the bōnenkai – not surpassing around 5,000 yen. This covers the cost of food, prizes and drinks for the entire night.

I hope that this gave you another glimpse into daily life in Japan, and made you feel that you were experiencing the season along with many other Japanese people!

So, from JapanLime to you . . . .

M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S!

Hiragana: めりーくりすます!

Katakana: メリークリスマス!

Romaji:  Meri Kurisumasu!

Always be ready for a Disaster / Emergency

If you are living in Japan, it is absolutely essential to be prepared for an emergency.

This is not solely due to the tsunami that occurred a couple of years ago (yes, I was there); but it is something that has always been stressed and ingrained in the very fabric of modern Japanese culture. Schools, companies, government agencies, etc. routinely conduct extensive and frequent drills concerning various emergency / disaster scenarios. Responses are timed and training is given with regards to first aid medical assistance.

It is actually an amazing experience if you get a chance to be a part of it. The tools you learn and the amount of dedication, hard work, commitment and national participation that is placed into it, is indeed inspiring.

You are probably wondering at this point what has prompted this post. There have been no reported disasters or emergencies in Japan at the moment, so why mention this?

Actually, a couple of days ago, all of the schools in Iwamizawa (Hokkaido) were abuzz with the possibility of a terrible snow storm hitting Hokkaido within the week. Schools were already expecting to be snowed in, electrical outages, buses not working and the cancellation of some of the school festivals that would most likely be postponed. Among staff, contingency plans were discussed and settled to compensate for the loss of time / events that were scheduled for this week so that they could be fulfilled at a later date without compromising on the classes and upcoming exams of the following week. There was also mention that if the storm did hit, residents would most likely be confined to their homes until it subsided.

It then occurred to me that maybe a lot of people are unaware of all of the emergencies that do occur in Japan on a relatively frequent basis: the snow storms (Hokkaido), blizzards (Hokkaido), earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, lightning storms, thunder storms, fires . . .  And that it is very real and necessary to have that emergency bag and stash of goods ready at all times.

A normal snowy day in Iwamizawa - and yes - the snow gets that high and even higher!

A normal snowy day in Iwamizawa – and yes – the snow gets that high and even higher!

After experiencing the after effects of the tsunami and devastating earthquake, the list and guides below would truly be helpful to anyone in the future.

This is a general list of things that should be in your Emergency Stash:

  • First Aid Kit
  • General medication – headaches, flu, fever. pain, allergies
  • If you have a medical condition and are required to take particular tablets, injections, etc.; have extra doses for a few days available.
  • Copies of your passport, ID, etc.
  • Contact phone numbers and emergency numbers should be clearly printed
  • Extra phone (fully charged)
  • Small emergency radio that has to be cranked and / or solar powered
  • Portable charger
  • Have extra cash available. ATM’s may not work during this time.
  • Torchlights
  • Batteries
  • Lanterns
  • Candles
  • Matches / lighters
  • Extra kerosene
  • Thermal blankets
  • Regular blankets
  • Charcoal
  • Small, portable bar-b-que pit / coal pot (provide heat and possibly heat food. This should be used in an open area, not if you are confined in a closed small space or a fire could erupt.)
  • Scissors
  • Knife
  • Rope
  • *Swiss Army knife*
  • Flares
  • Whistles
  • Walkie talkies
  • Food that can be consumed without reheating or cooking – potato chips, for example
  • Water (for general use)
  • Drinking water
  • Sports drinks
  • Dried fruit
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Jerky
  • Jam or jellies
  • Energy bars
  • Canned food – soups, beans, spam, cooked meat products, seafood
  • Can opener
  • Baby items (if there is a baby in the house) – pampers, formula, water, blankets
  • Battery powered fans
  • Battery powered heaters (for the cold)
  • Heat packs and sticky heating pads that could be placed under feet, on the back or stomach (for the cold)
  • A small tablet (iPad, Nexus for example) that is charged and could possibly be used for communication in emergency.

It should be noted that your emergency items should not be confined to just ‘one bag’. Instead, (in my opinion and experience) the following is recommended:

  • Main stash for the homePrepare an area where all of the items in your emergency kit could be easily found. This would also contain several bulkier items, including food products. Remember that food products should last a few days.
  • A back-pack per personHaving bags prepared in advance per person would make having to escape with essentials easier and faster. Additionally, in the unfortunate event of separation, it would ensure that each person would be catered for.
    • – Having a yoga mat, large sleeping bag (that could hold more than one person and / or children) and / or a tent could also be useful in the long run.
    • – A printed page with emergency phrases in the foreign language would also help. Place for children as well.
    • – Having the same copies of pictures in each bag with family members’ names and contact information is also a good idea.
    • – Remember to have a first aid kit and relevant documentation with you – as well as copies.
    • – Keep extra cash on hand. It may not be possible to withdraw funds from an ATM.
    • – Make sure that your bags are waterproof!
    • – Change of clothes and toiletries.
  • Remember to also pack for children – Having essentials already packed for children would also be helpful.
    • – Sewing or attaching contact details on the bag or clothes is also a good idea in the unfortunate event of getting lost.
    • – Pack a special toy,book, picture and blanket. If there are babies present, pack essentials, medicine, etc. for them as well.
    • –  Place extra cash with children as well.
    • – Change of clothes and toiletries.
  • Key areas of the homePlacing a torchlight, whistle, small medical kit, batteries, energy bars, tiny radio and phone in different areas of the house could be a lifesaver in times of emergency. These places should be areas where you spend the most time. For example: your bedside, kitchen, living area
  • For your car – Have an emergency stash available in your vehicle.
    • – Also, try to maintain a full tank of gas. It was very difficult to get gas when the tsunami and earthquake occurred; causing food deliveries to not be possible and necessary travel very expensive.
    • – Additionally, this is good to have in colder areas (like Hokkaido) in the unfortunate event that a blizzard occurs and you are somehow stuck in your vehicle.
    • – Remember to prepare for children as well.
  • Copy your key – Make a couple of copies of your house keys / apartment keys and give them to a trusted neighbour, friend and family member.

Please remember  . . . .

  • To always switch off your gas lines! Open gas lines during a terrible disaster could not only mean ‘FIRE!’, but also the inhalation of fumes that could render you unconscious or ill.
  • If there is a power outage, unplug devices. If devices were in use when the power was cut, switch them off and unplug.
  • It is good and beneficial to discuss emergency plans, responses and medical aid with your family and neighbours. Routine practice of emergency response is also greatly encouraged. This would help reduce feelings of confusion, fear and anxiety that normally occur in a disaster and give more focus to the situation at hand and how to respond to it.
  • Frequently change your batteries and check torchlights and whistles to ensure that they are working.
  • Ensure that stored food has not expired. Frequently check and refresh stored items.

If there are any other ideas or suggestions, please be sure to comment so that others could benefit from your thoughts!

For the Novice: Tips on reading (and eventually writing ) the Japanese language

A local newspaper article in Iwamizawa featuring myself and two of my teachers.

A local newspaper article in Iwamizawa featuring myself and two of my teachers. But look at the newspaper to get a feel of the everyday Japanese!

Nooooo . . .  the above picture is not here to blow my own trumpet and boast that I was in a Japanese newspaper. . .  Rather, the above picture is to serve two main goals:

  1.  It is to give you a glimpse of the script, style and punctuation that is seen and used everyday by millions of people who speak, read and write in Japanese.
  2. And, to hopefully give a person who has no or very little knowledge of Japanese, an idea of the language and how it is written and read.

So, go ahead – take a minute or two to study the picture above before reading below.

one minute . . .

two minutes . . .

Okay, had a look?

Then firstly, let’s state the more than obvious: it is written in Japanese.

But just what is ‘Japanese’ ?

Yes – we know that unlike the Romance Languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Latin), Japanese is made up of a script that does not include any symbols or letterings that are similar to English*. Instead, it has a unique system of characters that, frankly, looks Greek to many of us.

HOWEVER . . . . did you know that when reading and writing Japanese, it consists of the blending of THREE (yes, three!) types of scripts? Not kidding!

There is so much information that is intrinsic to the understanding of each system, that it would probably be necessary to dedicate some time later on to explain each in more detail.

For now, here is a summary of each system:


  1. HIRAGANA   ひらがな
Chart courtesy: http://www.tofugu.com/hiragana-chart/

Chart courtesy: Tofugu.com

This is the first script that all Japanese people first learn while in school.

Generally, it is used in the following manner:

  • As grammatical particles – for example, in, to (a place or person), of
  • At the inflectional ending of verbs and adjectives, such as る in 見る (miru – ‘to see’)
  • For words that may be too difficult to understand (for example, for children).
  • Words that can not or are not written in any of the other scripts.
  • To clarify sounds and meanings of words that are ambiguous in different scripts (these are called Furigana 振り仮名 ).


2. KATAKANA   カタカナ

Courtesy of: Tofugu.com

Chart courtesy: Tofugu.com

This next script is used in the following ways:

  • To indicate foreign language loan words and foreign names (except those borrowed from Ancient Chinese). Sounds in the native or source language are matched to the nearest sounds in the Japanese language (as seen in chart to the left). It is then transcribed in Katakana. For example, my name – Sonia –  would be written as ソニア. What about our country – Trinidad and Tobago? It would be written as トリニダード・トバゴ. Popular examples of foreign loan words are Konpyu-ta-  (Computer) written as コンピューター, and Petto (pet) written as ペット .
  • For plants and animals. For example, bara (rose) is written as バラ.
  • To give the feeling of something being said in a foreign accent.
  • For sound symbolism, for example the sounds of animals (a cat’s meow in Japanese, sounds like ‘nyaa nyaa’ ニャーニャー).


3. KANJI  漢字

Kanji Provinces. Courtesy of: acro-iris.com

Kanji Provinces. Courtesy of: acro-iris.com

Oh Kanji . . . I love you but I am oh so terrified of you! There is so much to be said about this particular script, that we definitely would have to dedicate a post on this topic!

To summarize, Kanji are Chinese characters that were introduced to Japan at a time it did not possess a written form of language. Actually, the literal translation of the word ‘Kanji – 漢字‘ means ‘ Han Characters’ (referring to Han Chinese).  About 2,000 -3,000 characters are in common use everyday, while a few thousand more are used less frequently!

Although Hiragana and Katakana evolved from  modified writing systems that were based on these Chinese characters; there are several uses of Kanji that still make them most valid:

  • For nouns, adjective stems and verb stems. For example, taberu (to eat) is written as 食べる, with 食 (ta) being the stem of the verb.
  • To represent a meaning, idea or thought. A single kanji could be used to denote several words, as well as possess several pronunciations. Meaning that several readings could be derived from a single kanji. The best example would be 生, which has 12 distinct readings (including the verbs it denotes).
  • And vice-versa: same sounds could have different meanings and thus written in kanji differently.  It should be noted that the script that is used to depict the sound of the word depends largely on the context and the meaning of that word that is being used in conversation! 漢字, 感じ, 幹事, 監事 are all pronounced the same way . . . ‘kanji’ . . . But they each have different meanings.
  • It helps to separate words from each other. It may sound strange, but it is true! Writing sentences solely in hiragana would not only make reading more difficult; but the author’s meanings would also be lost. The reason why this is needed to separate words from each other will be touched upon later in this post.
  • It makes reading easier and faster. Although this may seem like a pain to learn, it is worth it. Once you get an understanding of some kanji, you are able to get the jist of sentences and topics faster!
  • It minimizes writing space. Two or three sounds or characters could be summarized with one character!


4. RōMAJI  ローマ字

Yes, the Japanese language consists of three scripts.

Yes, this is number four.

Yes, I know how to count!

Rōmaji, which literally means ‘roman letters‘, is the ‘romanization’ of the Japanese language (which is typically written in the aforementioned scripts). That is; rōmaji transcribes the sounds of the Japanese language into Latin script.  For example, the rōmaji of 富士山 or ふじさん is Fujisan – meaning Mount Fuji.

To put it simply, it was developed for foreigners –  people like you and I.

So, why is it here? Of what use does it provide?

  • It is used to make Japanese easier for any foreigner – especially those persons who have little or no knowledge of hiragana, katakana and kanji. This makes it easier for learners of the language to understand what is being said and about who or what it is being said about.
  • It makes understanding basic landmarks, buildings, streets and instructions easier. There are many foreigners who could listen and understand Japanese very well, but find that reading and writing it is very difficult. This helps to close the gap as well as encourage a better understanding of what is being said.

Rōmaji therefore is not actually part of the written language: it is basically a transliteration of its sounds to make reading easier for foreigners. It is a tool meant to bridge the gap between your native tongue and Japanese.

WAIT! Where are you going?

You thought that after that lengthy yet useful, summarized introduction on the Japanese writing systems; that there were no more tips to reading Japanese?

Guess again! There are still a few more that we have to mention!

So, return to the top, have a quick scan of the pictured newspaper and try to figure out what other tips could exist. Then come back here so that we could continue!


The second tip regards its ‘Typography’ – the direction of the script.

Japanese could be written both vertically and horizontally! Yes! It is very true!

A vertical orientation (from up to down) is usually used when the topic of conversation is considered to be ‘traditional’, inherently ‘Japanese’ in nature and novels. The bindings on these books are on the right side – with pages to be read from right to left.

A horizontal orientation (from left to right) is utilized when topics of business, scientific, mathematical or language related topics are covered. The binding for such books are on the left side – with pages to be read just like most books in the western world – from left to right.

In cases where space is an issue (like with our newspaper pictured), the text is written in both directions. The header or title is written in bold, horizontally while the body of the article is written vertically. It should be noted that newspapers are typically read from right to left.


There are also slight variations of the punctuations used in Japanese writing:

kuten (句点) or maru (丸) – This is a period or full stop. It is a full circle, not a dot.

tōten (読点) or ten (点) – Essentially a comma. Used just the same way as its western counterpart.

nakaten (中点), nakaguro (中黒) or potsu (ぽつ) – Used between katakana words to separate them. Remember Trinidad and Tobago in katakana? トリニダード・トバゴ

「     」kagikakko (鉤括弧) – Essentially Japanese single quotation marks that are written as corner brackets. These are very commonly used to quote most things.

『     』nijūkagikakko (二重鉤括弧) – Double quotation marks that are used solely when you have to quote something that is quoting something else. For example, “Sam said, ‘Yummy’ and gave me a dollar.” In Japanese, these quotes would be on the outside borders of the sentence and the single quotes would be inside the sentence.

nyoro (にょろ), naishi (ないし), nami (波, “wave”) or kara (から) – Similar to the western dash, it is used to show the range of something, for example 月 金曜日, from Monday to Friday. It is also used to show where something is from or originates, to mark subtitles and drawing out vowel sounds!

kantanfu (感嘆符) – It is used the same way as a normal exclamation mark.

? – gimonfu (疑問符) – Yes, it is a question mark. But with Japanese, a question mark is usually denoted with the grammar-based marker (か) written in its sentence structure. In formal writing, the question mark is not used as か would be used (like in a newspaper). However, in a less formal setting, the か is dropped for a questioning tone of voice – with the question mark being used to depict this.

Although it is not officially a type of punctuation, its use in everyday casual Japanese cannot be ignored. Similar to emoticons; Kaomoji (顔文字), or “Face Letters” ,  are little faces drawn with text to denote the writer’s feelings and emotions.

Like a period, they are normally placed at the end of sentences – except with a lot more feeling!

Okay – we are on the last stretch!

Just one final tip on reading Japanese before this oh-so-very-long post ends: there are no spaces between words.

It is the truth (have a look again of the newspaper or the picture above if you do not believe me!)!

Japanese characters effortlessly flow into one another. that is why, as mentioned earlier, kanji is of great use. It helps to break the flurry of characters into words and acts as unintentional spaces so that you could understand what you are reading.

But, if your vocabulary is limited and grammar is non-existent; reading will also be non-existent!

There – F  I  N  I  S  H  E  D   !  !  ! ヽ(*⌒∇⌒*)ノ

Autumn in Hokkaido: Autumn needs and Stink bugs

DSC_0036Ah yes – Autumn!

And in Hokkaido, the chill starts earlier than the rest of Japan!

It is the time to start wearing that extra layer or light jacket to give you that extra warmth that is needed in that slightly oh so chilled air. The sunrise is a little later (Yay- sleep!) but the sun starts to set a little bit earlier.

One thing to start purchasing ( that would still be used in the winter months) is Heat Tech clothing.  It would seem to be a light jersey and /or tights to wear under your clothes – but it does provide extra warmth to your body. UNIQLO, a popular clothing store in all of Japan, has a variety of colours, styles and cuts for both men and women at very reasonable prices.

Start wearing a light scarf and mittens if the air is still a bit chilly for you. A nice thick sweater also helps.

You would notice that some people start to wear boots for the Autumn. This is not necessary (I wore my same shoes throughout – but then again, I like the cold! ) but the boots do provide added warmth to your feet when compared to the sneakers, heels or other normal shoes that we wear everyday in Trinidad.

If you are going to buy boots, make sure that they have some sort of grip. If they are smooth, there is a high risk of falling and injuring yourself – especially when it rains and everywhere is wet.


One thing that you may start noticing by early October is the number of stink bugs in your apartment that have somehow made it through every nook and cranny that cannot be seen by the eye. The chill air is kicking their instinct to get warm fast – and they try to do this by entering your nice heated apartment one way or another.

And when I say number – it is a big number! Sometimes, one would reach home and just see bugs everywhere!

Although they do not really pose a threat and will eventually die in your apartment; the truth is that if you try to catch them or hurt them in some way, their bodies get defensive – DEFENSIVE WITH A VERY STRONG, ODIOUS SCENT!


So, how could you protect your nose from such a defense in the future?

Let’s start off with some cautionary measures:

1. Resist the urge to vacuum the little guys. They would still release their scent glands.

2. Do not – I repeat – DO NOT mash, smash, squeeze or do anything that could cause them bodily harm! It not only releases the scent they are famous for, but causes an explosion of it!


What can you do?

First off, try your best to seal any cracks, openings or crevices in your apartment with silicone filler or tape. This is something that would have had to be done before the arrival of winter to prevent cold air from outside flowing in – so the presence of the stink bugs are a good reminder of that.

Avoid opening your windows and doors for prolonged periods of time. This is like an invitation that they are all waiting for! I sealed the windows of my apartment with tape – and this helped to greatly reduce the number of bugs in my apartment.

If you do open your windows and back door, make sure that the screen door is placed over the opening to prevent the bugs from finding their way inside!

Invest in a stink bug repellant and place by all cracks or spaces that they could be entering by.

There is a bottle of powder with red and yellow labeling that is used for stink bugs and other pests. This could be sprinkled at the base of the genkan door as well as by the windows (once they are sealed).

There is also a spray that is used. It has a very clear picture of a stink bug on it – so spray the apartment at least every other day to ensure it helps to repel.

Additionally, there are sprays that could be used on the window (side facing outside) to repel most pests. This is something that is definitely worth investing in – not just for Autumn but throughout the year. But it also helped in the fight against the stink.

After all of this, there would sometimes be one or two little guys who made their way into the apartment. What should you do?

Well, normally I would leave them alone. They seem quite happy to be warm and play around the bright light in the dining room. Plus, they normally die in a couple of days.


Autumn is also the perfect time to start your preparations for the coming Winter . . . which is normally a challenge here in Hokkaido.

My next post will cover some of the preparations that will make you “Winter Ready” for this challenge! So, look out for it!