Sunday, November 08, 2009

11 Funny Products from Japan

As you know, Japan is our number one source for nonsensical gadgets and toys. Today I am displaying some of the products I had fun browsing through. Brilliant Christmas gifts for people with a sense of humor.

1. R2D2 Pepper Mill

I love Star Wars, so it would be awesome to have this 11cm tall pepper shaker in the kitchen. Just load it with pepper, and turn Artoo's head to make him sprinkle the spices from his bottom.

2. Star Wars Lightsaber Chopsticks

These chopsticks won't sear and blacken your food. Practice your chopstick skills like a true padawan.
Monday, October 26, 2009

8 Tips on Chopstick Etiquette

Photo by bennylin0724

Here are 8 tips on chopstick manners every gaijin should know.

1. Learn how to hold and use chopsticks properly.
2. If you have a hashioki (chopstick stand), use it whenever you want to lay down your chopsticks.
3. Don't stick your chopsticks into your rice bowl.
4. Don't pick up food by forking it with your chopsticks.
5. Don't suck or lick your chopsticks.
6. Don't pass food from your chopsticks to someone else's chopsticks.
7. Don't spend too much time choosing what to pick up. Choose without showing it physically.
8. When using waribashi (disposable chopsticks), make your own hashioki out of the paper cover.

Bonus Tip 1: Don't leave rice in your chawan (rice bowl). Not even one grain.
Bonus Tip 2: Finish your dishes at an equal pace. Don't just finish one dish and move on to the next one.
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Get Your Personal Japanese Hanko Stamp Before Going to Japan

A hanko is a Japanese stamp that people use to sign official documents. It's like using a black pen in western countries for signing our name on papers.

When we live in Japan, we have to use stamps on many occasions. I even had to get my own stamp before I could sign a cell phone contract at au. And some real estate agents require you to have a hanko registered officially at your local city hall. So having a stamp can be quite necessary in Japan.

If you're planning to live in Japan in the near future, it wouldn't hurt you to get a stamp for yourself in advance. Having a stamp prepared in your suitcase will make the start easier for you, as you can take care of alien registrations and cell phone contracts quickly without first thinking about where to get a "gaijin hanko" and which characters to choose for your name.

In fact, J-List is now offering to create custom-made Japanese hanko stamps for $29.50 (USD). You will also get a case for it that has red ink in it. They have a Japanese team working on them, so you won't be receiving a stamp with an incorrectly engraved name: "the Japanese staff of J-List will be happy to help you choose the best character for what you want to express."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cheaper Prices at Japanese Supermarkets

Everyone wants to buy things at lower prices—especially we foreigners because we are the ones who tend to buy ingredients, like meat and cheese, that are more expensive in general. Luckily, most supermarkets in Japan have a "happy hour" right before closing time, and that's when they start labeling items with 半額 (half-price) stickers.

So if your supermarket closes at 8 p.m., your best bet would be to be there around 7:30 p.m. That time will be convenient for you, because you should have enough time to go through your shopping list, and you should also have the best selection of half-priced goods. The downside is that the store could be packed with people, and that some items could be sold out already.
Monday, October 12, 2009

8 Things Exchange Students Should Do in Japan After Arriving

Photo by GavinZ

As exchange students, or as visitors on the working holiday visa, there are certain things and procedures that we have to take care of before we can comfortably settle down. Without alien registration, for example, we would get into trouble after our first 90 days.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Moment of Peace on a Railway Platform

Photo by mikemellinger

Every one of us has spent countless hours on the platform waiting for the train. And I'm guessing that most of us get frustrated whenever we hear the delay announcement. It actually sucks a lot—especially if we have an urgent engagement like a private lesson. But when that happens, we can do little to influence the train to arrive on time. So, we can instead focus on something more positive.
Monday, October 05, 2009

Do English Teachers Need Japanese?

I've recently been talking to some friends of mine who are interested in teaching English in Japan, but many of them are still unsure if they have what it takes to teach English to Japanese students. They believe that their Japanese skills aren't good enough to explain things clearly. Well, the thing is, you probably won't be needing Japanese in most cases, as most students will understand what you're trying to explain in plain English.
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Should Gaijins Speak Keigo (Polite Japanese)?

Polite language is a funny concept for us gaijin. If I am a polite person I would, of course, naturally choose polite language over, well, impolite. But in terms of Japanese, polite language refers to the type of Japanese you speak to someone senior to you. We gaijin, however, aren't accustomed to these kinds of customs. So are we exempted from the duty of speaking differently to people who are older than us?

If our Japanese is too elementary, surely no one will expect us to use keigo. "Namae wa nan'tte iuno?" will obviously be fine instead of "O-namae wa nan'tte iun desuka?" when asking for someone's name. But if our conversational skills are adequate enough to carry out even semi-intelligent dialogues, should we immediately switch to polite form if the other person is senior to you?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is a Hard-to-Remember Kanji?

We've already noticed how complex the Chinese writing system is, but what about individual characters? Surely some kanji are harder to remember than others. I would argue that 三 is easier than 極, and they're both commonly used characters.

When I first started learning kanji, everything in my book appeared so intricate and impossible to remember. But now, something as basic as 日, 女, or 水 seems impossible to forget. I don't know... If I happen to stay away from Chinese characters for twenty years, who knows, I might forget them. The sad thing is, there are much more complex things than those radical characters.
Thursday, September 03, 2009

Kanji Test DS Kanken for People Learning Kanji

Kanji Test DS (250万人の漢検) is a handy tool for any learner of kanji who also owns a Nintendo DS. The game not only teaches you how to read and write Japanese characters but also tests you if you're able to use them correctly.

The game is based on the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test (日本漢字能力検定試験), and was probably originally meant to train people to score higher on the test. For us gaijin, however, it serves as a practical tool to learn the complex system of kanji.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

5 Things You Should Know Before Renting an Apartment in Japan

Having your own apartment in Japan may sound very appealing, but finding one doesn't always work the way you want it to. There's a lot of paperwork involved, and doing it in your non-native language can be overwhelming.

In today's post, I will talk about the five things that I had most trouble with when renting apartments in Japan. During my two-year stay in Japan, I have lived in three different apartments so I want to share with you five pointers that will hopefully be helpful to you.
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Accommodation Costs for Exchange Students in Japan

If you're planning to go to Japan as an exchange student, you're probably going to have to find some place to stay at. Most students have three accommodation options: apartment, dormitory, or homestay. The following rates are approximations appropriate to the Osaka area.
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Be Careful with Bicycle Parking in Osaka

If you're careless, you can easily lose your bicycle in Osaka. There are two common causes for it: thieves and the authorities. Today's topic will be bicycle confiscation by the authorities.

You can find many bicycle stands near subway and train stations in Osaka, but it's worth noticing that most of them are tagged 有料, which means "money required". If you leave your bicycle without buying a parking pass, and if the authorities happen to check on it, they will take your ride away and you will have to go to the appropriate garage to pick it up and pay a ¥2500 fine (or ¥5000 for light motorcycles).
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

10 Reasons Why Homestay Could Be Better

Last time I gave you 10 reasons why homestay could be a bad choice. This time, in contrast, I will list down 10 good reasons to enroll in a homestay program.
Saturday, August 22, 2009

10 Reasons Why Homestay Could Be Worse

Here are 10 reasons as to why homestay in Japan could be a worse choice than having your own apartment.
Saturday, August 08, 2009

Foreign Students in Japan Need a Work Permit

If you're a student and want to work part-time, there are a couple of things that you should know about working as a foreign exchange student.

According to this page, foreign university students who come to Japan to study full-time will need to get a permit to engage in "extra-status-of residence activities" (sorry for just brutally copy-pasting the term here) if they want to work in their free time.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Install Japanese Smileys in Windows XP

As you probably know, Japanese smileys look different from Western smileys. Just to give you a basic idea, in Japan people commonly type (^_^) instead of :)

If you want to use Japanese smileys, there's an easy way to adopt them to your Japanese word bank (or dictionary) in Windows XP so that you can bring them up with little effort.
Sunday, August 02, 2009

My 5 Favorite Places in Osaka

Every citizen of Osaka has them, right? Mine are...
Friday, July 31, 2009

Keep Your Room in Japan Clutter-Free

We often fail to notice how much (useless) stuff we end up accumulating over the finite months that we stay in Japan. I used to be an exchange student for one year in Osaka, and I am still repelled by the fact that I had collected so much junk during the time. Most of the stuff was useless anyway.

So when it's finally time to leave Japan, reality hits us straight in the face. The dresser is bulging with UNIQLOthes, and the oshi-ire cluttered with books, DVDs, video games, miniature fountains, Buddha statues, toys, a takoyaki cooker, and a replica of Miyamoto Musashi's wooden sword. Are you really going to take everything with you?
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is a Good Trial English Lesson?

Many foreigners staying in Japan have taken up private language tutoring as their part-time job due to the profits, convenience, and ease that it brings.

In May, I wrote a quick guide on how to start teaching English privately in Japan, but today I'm going to talk about trial lessons. A trial lesson is the very first lesson that you provide for a new student. It is like an introduction that will give your student an idea of what you do, how you carry out your lessons, and what kind of a person you are.

If your new student liked the first lesson she might start taking your lessons regularly, but if not, you might never hear from her again (except for a mannerly "Thank you for today's lesson. See you soon!")

So what makes a good trial lesson?
Sunday, July 26, 2009

How Many Kanji Should We Know?

So how many kanji do we need to know? What is the magic number?

First, let's rephrase the first question: What do we want to read? In the case of English it's simpler because the number of characters is very limited; learn the 26 letters of the English alphabet and you'll have a good start. With Japanese, you can effortlessly read children's picture books if you know hiragana. But if you want to tackle the Civil Code of Japan in the native tongue, you'll need a lot more than that.
Friday, July 24, 2009

How I'm Spending My Day Off in Japan

I have (or had) 24 hours at my disposal, but I'm not feeling very productive at the moment. Sometimes I just want to lay back and listen to the hum of my fridge or feel the breeze of the air-conditioner.

Today is one of those days when I have no plans or appointments whatsoever—just wake up whenever I want, eat when/what I want, do whatever I want (lie inert in bed). Okay, let me break that rule a bit... I'm going to make a plan right now to remain on this futon for the rest of the day. I have next to me a 2-liter bottle of Japanese mineral water, Bram Stoker's Dracula (book), and my cell phone. What else would I need to survive the remaining five hours?
Thursday, July 09, 2009

Top Posts

Here is a collection of my most popular blog posts.
Friday, July 03, 2009

Improve Your Japanese Reading Skills through Instant Messaging

In my previous post, How Long It Took Me to Learn to Read and Write Japanese, I briefly touched the subject of using online chatting as a means to improve your Japanese literacy skills. Today I would like to expand on that idea.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Most Difficult Chopstick Food

What is the reaction of a Japanese person at the sight of pickled plum? His tongue gets stimulated by the thought of this sour delicacy called umeboshi, and starts releasing gallons of spit. This is an effect to which outlanders with no former experience of pickled plum are immune.

My reaction to seeing a bowl of miso soup with cubes of raw tofu is nothing other than panic: I'm sitting in this fancy restaurant with all these erudite intellectuals, and the waiter brings us a mighty block of tofu on a bamboo tray... and all I've got is a pair of enamel chopsticks!
Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Cat Pees on the Futon

I just finished washing my semi-double futon in the bath tub because it stank of cat urine! The mattress was blotted with two big patches of yellow fluid...

Kai, our younger cat, has been guilty of passing water on various materials such as blankets, backpacks, mats, pillows, and futons ever since she was neutered a year ago.
Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Long It Took Me to Learn to Read and Write Japanese

Photo: Shugatastic
Kids in Japan learn a minimum of 1945 Chinese characters. The characters are learned in two phases: the first 1006 kanji are introduced in elementary school, and the remaining 939 in middle school and high school. The Japanese kanji curriculum, therefore, spans over 12 academic years. Does this mean that foreigners too must devote 12 years to learning Chinese characters to become literate in Japanese?
Friday, June 19, 2009

Butakimudon (Pork Kimchi Domburi)

I'm proud to present my first recipe ever: ぶたきむ丼!

I have a confession to make... Before coming to Japan I wasn't able to cook anything except rice. But after starting to live in a gaijin house, I couldn't keep eating only bento (Japanese boxed lunch), so I had to finally ignite the gas cooker and devise something to nourish myself with.

I experimented a lot with rice and various ingredients, but what I really wanted to do was come up with something quick and easy to make.

A friend of mine told me that buta-kimchi is easy to prepare, so I thought I'd give it a shot. To be honest, I didn't have any idea what it was like so I improvised—I was also too lazy to look it up on the Internet. I coated the frying pan with sesame oil, fried some shreds of pork in it, and emptied a pack of kimchi into it. Finally, I laid the concoction as topping on rice.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Read Japanese Menu Prices

Japan is a country where you'll get stuck sometimes for not being able to make sense of the local orthography. While the more important signs in the bigger cities are presented bilingually, you might have trouble understanding the restaurant menus even in central Tokyo.

Even if you're just a traveler wanting to go for a slurp in the local noodle shop, you might want to learn the Chinese numerals, because (1) they're still widely used in Japan, and (2) most restaurants don't have English menus. Where's Google Translate when we REALLY need it!?

While it is usually safe to order without knowing the contents of a dish, it will become a much greater problem if you fail to heed the price on the dish! So at least learn the numbers!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

3 Bothersome Facts about Japanese Dorms

To supplement my gaijin house post I wrote three weeks ago, I'd like to tell you something about Japanese dorms. I have never stayed in one but some of my friends have, and I heard their horror stories...
Friday, June 12, 2009

5 Tips on How to Effectively Improve Your Japanese

When I enrolled in the exchange program, I had many goals in mind that I wanted to achieve. Among them was of course a desire to improve my Japanese.

Going to a foreign country doesn't always entail becoming fluent in a language. You have to work at it if you really want to achieve good results. Just going to Japan and staying in a hotel for six months while working as an English teacher won't get you very far. You have to put effort into learning the language.

Today I'm going to give five pointers on how to improve your Japanese faster during your stay.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Kiyomizu Temple in Pictures

I could at last drag my ass to Kiyomizu Temple. I'm not that good at appreciating temples and shrines, but I must say it was pretty darn Zen!
Saturday, June 06, 2009

5 Things I Don't Like about Convenience Stores

No matter how much I love convenience stores, there are always things about them that bug me.
Thursday, June 04, 2009

Angry Note from Neighbor

Today I got another complaint from a neighbor of mine. He doesn't like the fact that my room emits smoke. He hangs his laundry on the balcony so he wrote to us saying that our unhealthy habit is making his clothes stink.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Spidermen Noodles

Ever wonder where Spiderman's webs end up...?

In Japan, they get gobbled up by diehard fans of the superhero, because Universal Studios Japan (USJ) collects Spiderman's trusty nets and cooks すぱいだぁ麺 (supaidaamen) out of them.
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weekly McDonald's Discount Coupons

Don't you ever get sick of eating domburi, sushi, yakiniku, miso soup, takoyaki, and above all... RICE! Every... effing... week. Obviously not. How stupid of me to ask. But I think it's only natural to crave something as repulsive as big, grea... juicy Double Quarter Pounders with fries after countless weeks of noodle-slurping and fine-tuning chopstick skills as an ascetic hermit in the misty mountains of Hyogo.
Friday, May 29, 2009

Quick Guide to Teaching English in Japan

It's easy to start earning some pocket money in Japan by teaching English. All you really need is email and a mugshot of yourself. There are several teacher-student matching services online that you can employ without cost. Signing up is easy but how do you make your profile effective?
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cheap Gaijin House in Osaka

There are various cheap housing options available in Japan: hostels, guest houses, capsule hotels, homestay families, dorms, et cetera. Although I've never tried any of those, I did stay in a gaijin house for seven months. It was the perfect first home for me in Japan.

In September of 2007 I came to Osaka for my exchange program, and wanted to get an apartment of my own. Not a dorm room where I'd have a curfiew, or a host family that I'd have to call everytime I wouldn't be back for dinner, but an affordable private room with no babysitting bullcrap or other annoyances. Of course I had to sacrifice some things such as getting my laundry done by the host mom or getting two meals per day in the dorm cafeteria. But what I really wanted was a place that allowed me to be independent.
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cute Stray Kitten Rescued in Osaka

I was going through my daily stuff in the afternoon when I noticed Kai, our younger cat, looking startled and meowing towards the balcony. We had the balcony door open to cool down the room, and at first I thought she was just curious about the birds chirping nearby. But soon we realized that the ruckus was being raised by cats - or abandoned kittens to be exact!

My girlfriend rushed outside with her friend to check on the kittens, but only one of them remained. I went down shortly after and saw the girls holding a small lump of fur in their hands. The other one had already been picked up by another lady who had come down there to see what was going on.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tower of the Sun

The Expo Memorial Park in Suita City is home to the 65-meter Tower of Sun (Taiyou no Tou). It was built by Taro Okamoto to symbolize the Expo '70.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Swine Phobia Hits Osaka

As the number of pig flu infections in Japan topped 170 yesterday, cotton masks have become nearly impossible to get ahold of. I noticed that one convenience store in Yamada had a note on their door saying that they had run out of them.
Monday, May 18, 2009


A collection of Japan-related links Teacher-student matching service
Japan-i: Enjoy the best in Japan travel! Explore the secrets of travel in Japan–adventure, culture, fashion, shopping, food, arts and more!
Kansai Flea Market Online classifieds
Jorudan Train route finder


part of my world My girlfriend's blog about being an exchange student in Finland

Self-Learner My other blog about self-learning and personal improvement.
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Christian Weddings Blasphemous in Japan

You'd be surprised how significant it is for a Christian wedding ceremony in Japan to have a foreign wedding minister. The funny thing is, no one really cares if the minister actually believes in the Lord God Almighty.

I like to occasionally skim through the Kansai Flea Market ezine (it's a decent place to find jobs btw) to see if there's anything interesting on it. Every now and then I run into an ad where a chapel is looking for "reliable Christian men" to perform wedding ceremonies. For fear that I will be punished divinely, I haven't been able to muster enough courage to apply, but a friend of mine did. And he gets hefty sums for making couples and families happy.
Saturday, May 16, 2009

How to Get Japanese Music from iTunes Store

Do you have an iTunes Store account but can't connect to the Japanese section of the store? If your credit card was issued outside of Japan, there's no way to get your hands on Japanese songs directly.

The only way to gain access to iTunes Store Japan (without a Japanese credit card) is to buy pre-paid music cards that, once activated, will have credits deposited into your iTunes Store account. You can then use those credits to buy Japanese music online. Read on to get iTunes Store Japan Music Cards...
Friday, May 15, 2009

Blog Reborn

It may be awkward to hear but this blog isn't as new as it may seem. I actually started it almost two years ago.
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Join My Blogroll

Do you have your own blog or website about Japan? I would like to get to know you and exchange links!
Thursday, May 14, 2009


Once Upon a Time in Osaka is written by Eric, a Japanese half-blood who will be talking to you from Osaka about his life in Japan as a (half) foreigner.

The main topics of this blog relate to mundane things that, as a matter of fact, probably aren't very mundane to most Westerners. I like to think about this place a lot, and there are so many phenomena on this island that are unique, partly because of its isolated nature. Although I can clearly feel the local Yamato blood flowing in my veins, so much of the customs, traditions and mentality is still shrouded in the mist...
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