Archive | December, 2008

大晦日

31 Dec

It’s now 11:50PM on December 31, 2008 (Japan Standard Time (JST)). Shortly, it’ll be 2009.

In late December, Japanese people say よいお年を (Yoi-otoshi-o) for “Happy New Year”…then January 1-3, it’s 明けましておめでとうございます (Akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu).

As I’ve mentioned before (click here), お正月 (New Years) is the biggest holiday in Japan.

Today is 大晦日 (New Years Eve). On 大晦日 (New Years Eve) in Japan, many people eat 年越しそば (New Year’s noodles) and at midnight go to a temple for the Buddhist tradition of the temple priest’s ringing the temple bell 108 times.

(Click here to read my short FAQ entry about 大晦日 (New Years Eve) in Japan.)

Alot of people (including us this 大晦日 (New Years Eve)), watch one of the popular 大晦日 (New Years Eve) TV shows.
Most people watch 紅白歌合戦 (Red And White Team Music Battle)…but my kids wanted to watch ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!! (Downtown’s No Job For Kids!!)…it’s a crazy comedy variety program.

Tomorrow we’ll go to my in-laws (many of my wife’s relatives will come too) and we’ll have a big, traditional Japanese New Years dinner. My kids will get お年玉 (New Years Gift Money)…and we’ll give my kids’ cousins お年玉 (New Years Gift Money) too.

It’s a good time.

Oh, look at the time…5…4…3…2…1…明けましておめでとうございます (Happy New Year)!

Counter Suffixes

30 Dec

In about four hours (from when I wrote this), it’ll be New Years Eve (in JST (Japan Standard Time)).
Soon it’ll be 2009! Time flies!

I was just reviewing one of my Japanese language books and decided to add another lesson here (click here for another one I wrote last month).

If you study Japanese, please leave a comment and let me know if this is helpful, too easy, or too difficult. (As with all of the 漢字 (kanji) on my blog, if you hold you mouse over it…you’ll see the ふりがな pop-up.)

The examples written in red are exceptions to the rule.

物の数え方 (Counter Suffixes)

  • People: ~ (一人, 二人, 三人)
  • Small item: ~ (一個, 二個, 十個)
  • Books, magazines: ~ (一冊, 二冊, 八冊)
  • Paper money (bills): ~ (千円札, 一ドル札)
  • Pairs of shoes or socks: ~ (一足, 三足, 四足, 何足)
  • Glass, cup, spoonful: ~ (一杯, 二杯, 何杯)
  • Dog, cat, insect: ~ (一匹, 二匹, 十匹)
  • Cylindrical items: ~ (一本, 二本, 八本)
  • Birds: ~ (一羽, 三羽, 十羽)
    (ie: 千羽鶴 (1000 origami Cranes))
  • Cars, phones, TVs: ~ (一台, 何台)
  • Flat items (sheets of papers, etc): ~ (一枚, 何枚)
  • Age: ~ (二歳, 二十歳, 何歳)
  • Place, Rank: ~ (三位)
  • Number of times: ~ (一回)
  • Pieces of mail: ~ (三通)

Book Off

29 Dec

There is a popular used bookstore chain in Japan called “Book Off“.

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Actually, they buy and sell more than just used books and magazines…they also buy and sell used CDs and video games.

The name of the store might sound funny to you…but it makes sense to Japanese people because “off” in this sense means (in Japan) “discount” (as in: a certain percentage  off of the price).

This company has become so successful that they now have stores that sell other various used things. For example, they have stores called “Soft Off” that buy and sell used computer software. Likewise, there’s “Hard Off” for used computer hardware, “Garage Off” has car parts and accessories, and “Hobby Off” is a used hobby shop.

They have a few other types of shops, as well…but you get the idea.

While I was out yesterday, I passed by this “Book Off” branch and thought I’d write a blog post about this chain of stores:

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With the world’s economy the way it is, stores like these and ¥100 shops, like “Daiso” (click here to read my post with a video of “Daiso” at the end), are becoming more popular.

So I looked at the Book Off” website, and was surprised to learn that they have overseas branches in 韓国 (Korea), Canada, Paris, New York, Hawaii and four stores in California!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since I learned that the Japanese book store 「紀伊国屋書店」 (Kinokuniya) has branches in many countries including Singapore, Australia and America, and the Japanese ¥100 shop 「ザ・ダイソー」 (The Daiso) also has branches in Canada, America and other countries (click here to read my post about Daiso‘s overseas stores).

Have you ever been to a Japanese store such as Book Off, Kinokuniya, The Daiso, or another one in a country outside of Japan? Is it the same as the original store in Japan?

KISS パチンコ

28 Dec

As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog (for example: here and here), I’m a big fan of the American rock band KISS.

(By the way, I wrote a post about the Japanese KISS-related movie called Detroit Metal City (click here) last August and it’s still the most popular post on my blog!)

Well, I just found out that a new KISS パチンコ (pachinko) machine has debuted here in Japan.

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パチンコ (pachinko) is a Japanese game that can be compared to a vertical pinball machine…with many small balls played simultaneously rather than just one larger ball. And unlike pinball, the object is to get the balls into certain holes at the right time. And, unlike pinball, パチンコ (pachinko) can also be compared to a slot machine in that there’s a payout…albeit the jackpot is more BB balls rather than money (due to anti-gambling laws), but the balls are exchanged for prizes (and then “sold” for money). It’s a loophole in the law, and the only reason for the popularity of パチンコ(pachinko).

I’ve already written a post about パチンコ (pachinko)…(click here to see it).

I’ve played パチンコ (pachinko) a few times…I’m not a big fan of the game—especially since I usually lose and the parlors are noisy and smokey from all the smokers (but recently, many パチンコ (pachinko) parlors have begun enforcing “No Smoking” rules to lure more customers)—but if I happen to see a parlor advertising that they have the new KISS パチンコ (pachinko) machine, I may go inside and try it out! Just because it’s KISS.

Wanna see the website for the KISS パチンコ (pachinko) machine? It’s in 日本語 (Japanese)…but it has a cool Flash® intro.

Click here to visit the KISS パチンコ (pachinko) website.

パチンコ (pachinko) machines, like pinball machines, usually have a theme…and it’s often something from pop-culture. Usually it’s Japanese pop-culture…but sometimes, like the KISS パチンコ (pachinko) machine, it’s from Western culture.

Another example (that may interest a friend of mine whose a big Star Wars fan), is the fairly new Darth Vader パチンコ (pachinko) machine.

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I guess the machine’s full name is 「Fever STAR WARS ダース・ベイダー降臨」 (“Fever STAR WARS: Darth Vader’s Arrival“).

It has a 日本語 (Japanese) website with a Flash® intro, too. Click here to see it.

Japanese New Years

27 Dec

In Japan, お正月 (New Years) is the biggest holiday.
It can be compared to クリスマス is Western countries because stores and houses are decorated, families get together for a large traditional dinner, kids get gifts, cards are sent, and many shops are closed for the holiday (although nowadays most stores stay open).

(Click here to read my short FAQ about お正月 (Japanese New Years)).

There’s alot to お正月 (Japanese New Years), so I hope I can explain it clearly.

Until about two-hundred years ago, Japan followed the Chinese year with New Years in early Spring, but now follows the Western calendar with New Years Day on January 1. But the Chinese zodiac is still used with each year being represented by an animal. There are twelve animals (well, actually eleven animals and a dragon ;) )…2008 is the “Year Of The Mouse” and 2009 will be the “Year Of The Cow”.

In late-December, many people go out drinking with friends or co-workers for a 忘年会 (End-Of The-Year Party), (or they may go out with them in January for a 新年会 (New Year Party) instead).

In December, people clean their houses from top to bottom (similar to “Spring Cleaning” in the West) and they may decorate their house with traditional Japanese New Years decorations such as 鏡餅 (kagami-mochi), 門松 (kado-matsu), おかざり (okazari), and ダルマ (daruma).

ダルマ (Daruma)

Also in December, people write and send out 年賀状 (New Years Postcards), which are kinda similar to Xmas cards in Western countries.
年賀状 (New Years Postcards) are written by hand on special New Years postcards that can be purchased from the post office or some other stores.
Many people buy blank postcards and draw their own picture on it that usually incorporates the new years Chinese zodiac animal and some New Years greeting, or they buy postcards with New Years pictures and greetings on them, or nowadays it’s become popular to print them on the computer (Japanese Microsoft Office Word® software on Windows® comes with a function to design 年賀状 (New Years Postcards)), or another option many people use is to have a photo studio make their 年賀状 (New Years Postcards) with a family photo (usually if there was a major event that year in their family, such as their kid’s 7-5-3 Festival).
Regardless of how they make their 年賀状 (New Years Postcards), a personal message to the addressee is handwritten on each one.

If 年賀状 (New Years Postcards) are put in the mailbox during dates specified by the post office, they are guaranteed to be delivered on January 1 exactly.

Also, each 年賀状 (New Years Postcard) has it’s own serial number printed on the back. In January, the post office announces a series randomly drawn numbers for a New Years Postal Lottery…whoever has a postcard with a winning number can receive a prize which is often something like a paid vacation in Hawaii, a television, a stationary set or stamps.
(I have never won anything yet. Not even stamps. :( ).

Then on New Years Eve, people might watch one of the popular music theme shows on television or they may pay a visit to a temple for the temple priest’s ringing of the temple bell 108 times…which is a Buddhist tradition.

On New Years Day, firsts are important. The first meal of the New Year should be 年越そば (New Year’s noodles), many people watch the year’s first sunrise, the first dream of the year is important, as well as the first calligraphy, first tea ceremony, etc.

Just like Xmas in the West, families get together on New Years Day for have a traditional Japanese お正月 (New Years) dinner called お節料理 (O-sechi-ryouri). Children are given お年玉 (gifts of money in special envelopes). These envelopes are usually decorated with popular cartoon characters…so, often, when the kids are little, the envelopes are more appealing to them than the money inside!
And playing お正月 (New Years) games like かるた (Karuta) or 福笑い (Fukuwarai) is popular.

Finally, on New Years Day and for a few days following, stores often have big sales…so shopping is popular (especially with young women). Many stores also have 福袋…which is often translated as “Happy Bag” or “Lucky Bag“. These are bags of various items from the store put inside a sealed bag and sold at a discount. The only catch is…you can’t look inside the bag until you pay for it (the stores tell if whether the items are for men, women or children and what the sizes are (if there are clothes inside)).

お正月 (New Years) is also one of the two times a year that the public is allowed inside the Imperial Palace grounds to hear the Japanese Emperor’s New Year’s greeting.

So, お正月 (New Years) is a busy time…but it’s also fun.

アメヤ横丁

26 Dec

Yesterday was クリスマス (Christmas)…hope you had a  「メリー・クリスマス」 (“Merry Christmas“).
As we often do at Xmas, we had dinner at my wife’s parents’ house. My wife’s aunt and her siblings and their kids were all there too. So it was a big dinner with many people. It was alot of fun.

The day before that (Wednesday, December 24), we went to 上野 (Ueno, Tokyo).
We did alot of shopping in the アメヤ横丁 (Ameya-yokochou) area (or アメ横 (Ame-Yoko) for short).

This is an area that used to be a black market right after WW2, but now it rows of stores that sell everything from traditional Japanese snacks to leather jackets to book bags to jewelery to seafood to…whatever!

People who think that Tokyo is expensive often just don’t shop in the right places. アメヤ横丁 (Ameya-yokochou) is one of the many areas in Tokyo where you can buy all kinds of things at very reasonable prices.

Here are some photos that I took there:

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Xmas time

23 Dec

It’s Christmas time…and Xmas is celebrated in Japan, but not to the extent that it is in Western countries.
In Japan, New Years is the biggest holiday. Actually, Xmas isn’t a legal holiday here…I mean, it’s a work day (unless it falls on the weekend).

Click here to read my short FAQ about Xmas in Japan. And click here to read my short FAQ about Japanese New Years.

In Japan, クリスマス (Christmas) is mainly for couples and families with children.
Couples often go on a date to look and クリスマス・イルミネーション (Xmas illumination).
(Click here to visit a website that shows many places around Japan to see クリスマス・イルミネーション (Xmas illumination). (That site’s in 日本語 (Japanese) only)).

And they may also go to 東京ディズニーリゾート (Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea) for the Disney Christmas event that they have there (of course, this is less popular with couples who aren’t in the Tokyo area).

Families with children may also go to 東京ディズニーリゾート (Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea), if they’re in this area.

But in Japan, most homes aren’t decorated for Xmas…especially uncommon are Christmas trees. Stores and shopping malls, on the other hand, are very decorated for Christmas from November until Xmas day (after that, the decorations quickly change to the more important New Years decorations).

In Japan, Santa Clause will leave presents near the pillows of young children in Japan on Christmas Eve. On average, Japanese children receive fewer Xmas presents than children in Western countries.

On Christmas Day, it’s popular for families to have a Christmas dinner. But it’s different from Xmas dinners in other countries.
When Japanese people think of Christmas dinner, most think of Kentucky Fried Chicken® and a strawberry poundcake that is called クリスマス・ケーキ (Christmas cake).

Kentucky Fried Chicken® started a campaign about thirty years ago at Christmastime by decorating their shops for the holiday and offering set meals advertised as American style Christmas dinners.
And now, on Christmas Day, Kentucky Fried Chicken® always has long lines outside their stores and their deliverymen are driving all around town on the Kentucky Fried Chicken® mopeds.

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The KFCパーティ・バーレル」 (“Party Barrel“):

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At Christmastime, KFC Japan even sells 1% alcohol bottles of “Christmas champagne”.

Kentucky Fried Chicken® isn’t the only ones busy at Christmas in Japan, cake shops have lines of customers buying the クリスマス・ケーキ (Christmas cakes):

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天皇誕生日

23 Dec

Today is the 天皇誕生日 (The Emperor of Japan’s birthday).

He’s 75 years old today.

Today is one of the two times of the year that the Japanese Emperor greets the public at the Imperial Palace (the other day is New Years).
(Click here to read my short FAQ about 天皇誕生日 (The Emperor of Japan’s birthday)).

It has been announced that the Emperor is currently suffering stress-related illness.

Here’s a picture of the Emperor Of Japan greeting the public at the Imperial Palace today:

emperor

+++

Yesterday, I went to a 忘年会 (End Of The Year Party).
(The literal translation of 忘年会 would be Forget The Year Meeting…but I think End Of The Year Party is a more accurate translation).

It was at a nice restaurant. We had 刺身 (sashimi), シャブシャブ (Shabu-shabu), and 飲み放題 (All-you-can-drink alcohol)!

In Japan, many people do 忘年会 (End Of The Year Party) in December and/or 新年会 (New Year’s Party) in January.

冬至

22 Dec

Yesterday was 冬至 (Winter Solstice). This is the day (in the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere) that daytime is the shortest and nighttime is the longest in the year.

夏至 (Summer Solstice), when daytime is the longest, is around June 21; and the two days that daytime and nighttime are an equal twelve hours each are 春分の日 (Spring Equinox), on about March 21, and 秋分の日 (Autumn Equinox), on about September 21.

There’s a Japanese tradition to eat かぼちゃ (pumpkin) and take a ユズ湯 (a bath with yuzu* floating in the water).
*(yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit).

It is an old Japanese belief that eating かぼちゃ (pumpkin) and taking a ユズ湯 (yuzu bath) on the 冬至 (Winter Solstice) will help prevent colds.

We ate かぼちゃ (pumpkin) with our dinner and took ユズ湯 (yuzu bath) yesterday. I have a bit of a cold…I can use the help. ;)

+++
Yesterday afternoon, we went to 柴又 (Shibamata, Tokyo).
We’ve been there a number of times before…and once before I wrote a blog post about it.
(Click here to read that post.)

It’s a nice 下町 (traditional area).

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Here’s a store that was selling ダルマ (Daruma*):
(*Daruma are bought at New Years with no eyes. You make a New Years wish and color in one eye. When (if) the wish comes true, you paint in the other eye. Then at the end of the year, whether the came true or not, you bring the Daruma to a temple to be burnt down. The you buy a new one for the following year).

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The old-fashioned Japanese candy shop there had this sign out front that said 「本場アメリカのピンボール・ゲームありマス。」 (“We have pin-ball machines from America.”)

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Some of the candy (including powdered fake-beer drinks!)

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The famous and ever-popular 寅さん (Tora-san):

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A sign warning children not to play too close to the river’s edge:

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This is a boat service that has been taking people across the river for many, many years (there are bridges now, so people ride this ferry only for fun now).
(I wrote about this boat before…click here to read that post):

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This cat was very friendly:

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I took a couple vidos today, too.

This one’s of a おせんべ (Japanese rice cracker) shop:

And this one is of a shop that makes hand-made candies:

印鑑

20 Dec

In Western countries, a signature is used to make contracts and other documents official.
But in Japan (and China and Korea), an 印鑑 (name seal) is used.

In Japanese, these are called 印鑑 (inkan) or 判子 (hanko).
Generally speaking, 判子 (hanko) is used less officially.

When I first came to Japan, all documents required a 印鑑 (name seal). Opening bank accounts, receiving registered mail, contracts, etc.
And before I got one, I would be required to give a thumb-print with the red ink used for name seals in lieu of a 印鑑 (name seal).
But once more foreigners started coming to Japan in recent years, Western style signatures have become acceptable for less important documents. More important documents still require a 印鑑 (name seal), though.

So, although we have a 印鑑 (name seal), if the mailman brings me registered mail, I’ll just sign my name with a pen in the space marked 「印鑑」 on the form rather than break out my 印鑑 (name seal).
But for bank paperwork, tax forms, my kids school registration papers, etc, I need to use our 印鑑 (name seal).

Here’s a photo I took of a shop that makes 判子 (name seals):

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And here’s a picture that I found online from a shop that makes 印鑑 (name seals). You can see the name being carved into the seal, and what the name looks like when stamped with the official red ink:

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And here’s a photo I took of some “off the rack判子 (name seals) that are used for less important documents:

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***

Here’s another photo I took today (it doesn’t look like anything special to me because I’ve seen these signs everyday for the past eighteen years…but maybe you’re interested):

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Can you guess what this sign means?

It says 「止まれ」, which means “Stop”. (The mirror at many Japanese intersections is to help you check for oncoming traffic).

Most signs in Japan are different from their counterparts in other countries, and they often have no English written on them (eighteen years ago there was even less English here!). If you’re gonna stay in Japan, it helps to learn how to read…but it’s not easy!

Japan’s stop-sign is triangular, but many countries, it seems, have adopted the U.S. style red octogon stop-sign…even China. The stop-sign in China is red and octogon shaped, like in America…but, like Japan, it doesn’t have any English written on it either.

The Chinese stop-sign just has one kanji character on it: 「停」. In Chinese, it’s pronounced as “Ting!“, I believe (I don’t speak any Chinese)…but in Japan, that character for “stop” (「停」) would be pronounced as テイ (tei) or とまる (tomaru).
But, as I said above, the Japanese stop-sign doesn’t use that character…but rather 「止まれ」.

***

I finished adding Category listing for all of my previous posts. You can use the “Categories” drop-down menu to the right to find posts that I’ve written by subject. (You can also use the “Search” box, similairily).

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