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:

Courtesy of:

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:

Chart courtesy:

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:

Chart courtesy:

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:

Kanji Provinces. Courtesy of:

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

Japan: Its Weather and Seasons

Ask a Trinidadian which season they like the most, and they would answer either:

  1. The Dry Season.”
  2. The Rainy Season.”
  3. “Does it matter?”

YES, that’s right – we only have two seasons.

As a Trinidadian, we basically know whether we prefer the sunny weather in the first half of the year, as opposed to the wet, rainy weather that is rampant in the second half of the year. There are no shades of grey. We either prefer the heat or the cold (which to most of us here, means the rain). The topic of ‘the weather’ also seems incredibly boring to us.

But in Japan, the weather is a topic of conversation.

As Japan is a temperate country, its location presents one with the opportunity to experience all four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each period is usually marked by changes in the weather and the environment. These changes also dictate that certain activities, crops and food are only possible for a few months at a time. . . leading to special events to commemorate the beginning of each season.

Spring in Japan is usually highlighted by the blooming of the cherry blossom or "Sakura" trees.

Spring in Japan is usually highlighted by the blooming of the cherry blossom or “Sakura” trees.

Spring (the end of March –  start of June):

Spring is usually celebrated by friends and family meeting under the delicate pink blossoms of the Sakura tree. This is called “Hanami” – meaning “Flower viewing“.

Picnic stations are set under the blooming trees. There, many people can be seen eating either cute bentos (which are home-made) or popular street food (like takoyaki) that were purchased from nearby stands that were set up specifically for this event. While engaged in such merriment, time is taken to enjoy the view of these delicate flowers that are in bloom for such a short time.

The Japanese seem to have attached a deep meaning to the Cherry Blossom and the event of its blooming.Its significance may be tied to important life events and changes in one’s life in Japan.

Unlike Trinidad, Japan’s new school year begins at this time- around April. Government institutions also rotate their staff across different departments / locations / areas too. Seeing the cherry blossoms at this new change and part of life is what may be the key that further resonates a deeper nostalgic and sentimental feeling between cherry blossoms and the Japanese heart.

To me, it seems to represent the fragility and fleeting life of the world and the moments it is made up of. It also seems to signify renewal, or a new, fresh beginning in life.

People also use this time to clean their homes and cleanse it of bad spirits. The Setsubun Festival  celebrates this cleansing at temples all across Japan.

Although Spring lasts for a few months in the mainland of Japan, Hokkaido is different. It could last for only about a month. The viewing of the sakura is also very short – only a few days!

Scattered showers and warm days are typically experienced during Spring. This paves the way for the melting of snow and young, green shoots emerging from the once cold ground.

Preparation of fields for rice.

Preparation of fields for rice planting.

To take advantage of the rainy weather, seeds and seedlings are normally planted during this time. Some of the crops, like watermelon for example, would be ready for consumption by summer. Other crops, like rice, would be ready to be harvested by autumn.

Sorry that this is a little blurry. The Tower of Lights as seen here in Kuki’s Matsuri (Saitama) were spinning so fast! Yes, SPINNING!

Summer (June – Early September)

I remember that the first time that I was going to Japan, my Japanese teachers (who are Japanese) warned me of its summer heat. In my mind, I thought, “I am from the tropics. The heat cannot be worse than here.”

Boy. . .  was I ever so wrong!

In Trinidad, even though it is hot, there is still a lot of breeze.

Not in Japan, my friends. The air is still as the heat swells. The body automatically compensates for the absence of breeze to cool the body by cooling it itself.

Basically – you are constantly sweating.

It really is just like in the animes and manga that so many of us are fond of: the complaints of the heat, feeling like passing out, thirsty, fanning, the wearing of lighter clothes, the excursions to the beach and the pool – all in the sake of cooling oneself of the incessant heat. Even the nights are incredibly humid!

Because Japan is environmentally conscious, there is a restriction on how low one can set the temperature of their air conditioning units : 23 degrees celsius.Believe me, you would still feel very hot! That is why looking for alternate ways of cooling oneself becomes so important!

Even when you go to the malls, people distribute free bottles of water to everyone. This is because the heat is so intense during this time, that around two hundred people a year die of heat stroke in Japan!

And during this time, there is very little rain! So the heat keeps building!

As a precaution, be sure to wear caps or hats while out in the sun. Keeping hydrated is also very important during this time.

But in all of this heat, there is one thing that most people look forward to: Matsuris.

A Matsuri or festival is normally held in the local village or town one resides in. Each town has its own traditions – thus the festivals that may be held in one prefecture / county of Japan may differ greatly from each town / village there. That is why people attend so many festivals across Japan.

Carrying of the Mikoshi – a portable shrine of the local guardian – is conducted by some communities before the start of the festivities.

Although a typical matsuri in Japan takes place over two days; in actuality, its preparations start about a couple of months before.

Locals volunteer hours of their time a few times a week after school and work to make the festival a success. They are either involved in practising Taiko (playing of the large drums), cleaning of the shrine, organizing stalls and events . . . just to name a few. It is definitely a local group effort to get everything underway.

That is why on the days of the festivities, locals are so jubilant and happy – they get to see and partake the results of their hard work over so many months.

The first day is normally marked by a brief period of executing the formalities of opening the festival to the public.This is then followed by the opening of stalls and an invitation to the public to partake in its activities. The second day continues in much of the same way, but ends with all persons involved in preparations, etc. go out, drink (even more) and be merry!

                       A stall selling various masks to highlight the festival at hand.

One thing that is present at all matsuris – stalls! The myriad available at times could be astounding!

Food stalls typically offer the Japanese favourites:

  • Yakisoba – noodles quickly prepared on a grill with meat and vegetables.
  •  Edamame – blanched soy beans that are lightly salted.
  • TakoyakiBits of octopus cooked a ball of batter over special grills.
  • Yakitori – grilled pieces of meat offered on skewers.

They also offer a variety of desserts – from bananas covered in chocolate to shaved ice and taiyaki (fish shaped batter that is cooked and stuffed with anko or red bean paste, custard or cream).

There are also a lot of games that one could play. . . the most popular being goldfish or turtle scooping. These stalls are normally teaming with patrons – especially elementary school kids who want to try their best to capture an elusive goldfish or turtle.

Do not be fooled! This is harder than it appears to be! It is mostly due to the fact that the scoop itself is made of a very thin film of paper. Once it gets wet or any weight is placed on it for too long (a matter of seconds!), the paper would break and the goldfish or turtle would fall back into the pool it came from.

Chocolate covered bananas are a popular festival dessert in Japan.

            Chocolate covered bananas are a popular festival dessert in Japan.

As a Trinidadian, when I heard about this festival, its activities and the fact that most of it occurs during the night, I thought that I would be up all night taking part in everything. Imagine my utter surprise when at 10:00 pm all of the music promptly stopped, stalls closed, streets cleaned and police began patrolling the area – ensuring that no one driving or riding home was drunk (in Japan, it is illegal to ride your bicycle drunk). This was my expression: ( ‘.’ ) I was really shocked.

I was so familiar with our Trinidad nature of partying for long hours and days, that I believed that it was the same everywhere. I was speechless to see how early everything finished on both days!

And of course, people look forward to seeing ‘Hanabi’ or fireworks after the festival.

However, in smaller areas, fireworks are not always possible due to the proximity of buildings to each other. But, vast, open areas like by Tokyo Bay, annually have their summer fireworks to mark its end.

In Trinidad, schools are completely desolate. Students are home enjoying the long summer vacation that is given to them.

But, in Japan it is different. Schools are only closed for ONLY one month – August. Although there are no classes, teachers still come to school every day to prepare their lesson plans for the next semester, while students still come to school to partake in club activities!

The arrival of Autumn could be seen in the changing colours of the leaves.

      The arrival of Autumn could be seen in the changing colour of leaves.

Autumn (Late September – November)

As it gets closer to the end of September, the days get a little cooler and the sun seems to set a little earlier. The rains return once more.

Of course, as Trinidadians, we have our fair share of rain and take it a bit lightly.

But the rain in Japan is not just rain. . .most of the time, there are thunderstorms! And when I say thunderstorms, I mean storms with heavy rain, very strong winds and very, very, very loud booms of thunder followed by the cracking of lightning.

You will notice a lot of Japanese people screaming at the thunder, cowering and even not allowing anyone to leave a compound due to the thunderstorm.

This is because it really is a serious matter.

With the rain falling so heavily and lightning is everywhere, it is easy to get electrocuted or injured in some way.

Plus, the torrential downpour of rain is so much at times, that when riding your bicycle to work, you end up completely drenched. More than once has that happened to me, despite wearing a raincoat.

The following precautions and preparations should be made during this time:

  • Invest in a very good raincoat.
  • Always have an umbrella.
  • Make sure your bag is waterproof. If not, place all of the contents in your bag in a plastic bag that could fit in the bag that you are using. This would protect your stuff from getting wet and damaged.
  • Buy a good pair of rain boots or shoes that could withstand moisture.
  • Pack an extra set of clothes for changing.
  • Prepare an emergency kit at home in case electricity goes – canned items, first aid kit, bottled water (and Coca Cola!), batteries, torch lights, candles, matches, portable charger for your cellular / mobile phone.
  • Make sure that your bicycle tires are not smooth and are fully pumped with air.
  • Pack two extra small towels: one to wipe your bicycle seat and the other for you.

Preparations for the coming winter are also done in the colder parts of Japan – but that we would cover in another post.

Harvesting of rice crops, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, etc, are also done during this time. To commemorate the harvests, on the day of the Autumn Equinox, families often gather in the late afternoon and have bar-be-ques at home. This includes the roasting of vegetables and meat over an open flame.


Snow covered trees in Iwamizawa City, Hokkaido

Winter (Late November – March)

In most of Japan, the weather is a lot cooler now and gets colder as the months pass by. Keep warm by investing in the following:

  • A scarf
  • Mittens – waterproof is best.
  • Hat
  • Heat tech – these are garments worn under your clothes to keep you warm. The store Uniqlo normally offers a wide selection of heat tech for both males and females.
  • Warmer shoes / boots with grips.
  • Small heating packs that come in a variety of sizes for your back, shoes, socks, stomach – even to just hold in your hands. Those that come with the sticky glue are to be stuck on your garments in the specific area – not on your skin! Also, please avoid falling asleep with them on as they could burn your skin! The hand held ones would not burn your skin though.
  • A winter coat / jacket
  • Sweaters
  • Finer yet warm clothes that facilitate ‘layering’ (this will be explained more in another post).
  • Portable heater (if your place does not have one or you have several large rooms and need to provide heating in more than one).

Depending on the area that you are residing in, you may need more items (like if you were living in Hokkaido) or less (living in Tokyo or Kyushuu for example). Be sure to ask people around you what are their normal preparations for winter, as well as figure out what works for you.

A thorough list of winter preparations would be presented in another post.

During this time, one would notice that the vending machines would now offer a variety of hot drinks along with their cold selections. Be sure to try the hot cocoa (very delicious and chocolatey – yum!) and corn pottage! It really warms you!

Hokkaido, the most northern point of Japan, generally has a lot of snow during winter.That is why they host a number of snow festivals – particularly in the month of February – when the snowfall is at its highest. A later article covering Hokkaido’s winter in detail will be posted soon.

Forgive me for the length of this post, but I hope that it provided you with a general insight and understanding of the weather and seasons in Japan, and how greatly it affects and guides the daily life of the Japanese people.

Winter's arrival

Winter’s arrival

A bit of Akihabara in Sapporo


Having fun at the Pokemon Centre in Esta Plaza, Sapporo.

Mandarake, Sapporo


Although Hokkaido is a long way from Akihabara – the Electric Town that is heaven to many lovers of anime, manga and cosplay – it does not mean that you cannot get that Pokemon fix you most desperately need.

Surprisingly, Sapporo is home to a number of stores that are dedicated to all things for the anime / manga / cosplay otaku.

Look no further from the Sapporo train station to the Esta Plaza . One of the floors of this giant multi-tiered mall is dedicated to all things anime – from Naruto and One Piece to Pokemon. Even the games that they have for young children are adorable – especially the huge sand box that would simulate the feel of a beach and fulfill the desire to build a sandcastle in the middle of winter.


Another store to look out for is ‘Mandarake‘.

It is a popular chain of anime stores all across Japan – and luckily there is one in Sapporo! This store has everything for every type of otaku!

One day is definitely not enough to see all that this store could offer: original sketches from some of your animes, limited edition figurines and art, cosplay outfits as well as long lost forgotten treasures that only past generations could truly appreciate.

Need help to find a particular item in this vast store? No problem! Just ask one of the many assistants who are FULLY dressed with makeup as popular characters from anime and manga.


Another popular chain of stores is ‘The Village Vanguard’.

Sure, it may not be the typical anime otaku store, but you are guaranteed to find at least one thing there that appeals to the collector in you.

It is actually a quirky store that offers a lot of novelty items that are considered ‘retro’. Little toys like ‘Smurfs’ circa the 1980’s are still available here at an affordable price! This was also one store where I could find Coca Cola memorabilia as well as some funky items that you could not find anywhere else.


There are also some hidden stores that could be found in the underground mall of the station (which extends quite a few blocks from the station underground) that have all of those figurines, DVDs, manga and cosplay that you so desire. You just have to be patient, wear sneakers and be sure to visit a few times to be able to really see where it is. Or, you could ask some of the local persons of where to find such stores.

Usually, these stores are smaller . . .  but do not be deceived! They still offer a good variety of stuff at very good prices!


And on another note . . .  DO NOT DISCOUNT your local convenience store and toy store!

You would be surprised to see some of the latest anime figurines that are available for a limited time only.


But, if you do decide to undertake this trek in Sapporo, BE WARNED!

For a person who is not familiar with massive crowds, huge multi-tiered malls and an intricate network of closely woven malls, stores and roads with gigantic lit signs – the experience could result in sensory overload and disorientation.

Be sure to research the places that you would like to visit before going. Get maps and be sure to keep your mobile (with an installed map app) with you at all times.

Read signs! Most of the signage in Sapporo are in English.

If you do become lost, enter a nearby store, police box or reception area of the mall and ask questions. If you are still unsure, ask them to draw you a map with landmarks.

But the best way to venture out at first would be with a group or with a couple of persons who know the area. This would give you the chance to familiarize yourself with the area,the stores and offer guidance with directions to the places of your pleasing. It will also provide a support system and security if the group becomes lost.


So, rest assured that you could indeed find some semblance of Akihabara in Sapporo!

Iwamizawa to Abashiri

Iwamizawa to Abashiri

These beautiful pictures were taken while on a train from Iwamizawa (central of Hokkaido) to Abashiri (to the somewhat northern tip of Hokkaido).

My fatigue of the day’s work completely melted upon such beautiful images that whizzed past on the five hour train ride (one way!).

Although it is possible to take an airplane to Memanbetsu (a small town just 20 minutes away by train from Abashiri), that would have definitely saved HOURS – it definitely cannot replace the sights to be seen in a naturally beautiful and pristine country as Hokkaido.

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