5 Steps to Hanami (View Cherry Blossoms) in Japan

Spring has Sprung!

Spring has Sprung!

Ah, March.  The prelude to Spring.  The light at the end of a long winter tunnel.

Or in Japan, it’s the start of one of the most prized occasions of the year:

Cherry Blossom Season.

Whatever high expectation you have for watching cherry blossoms in Japan (or better known as ‘hanami,‘ which literally means ‘watch flowers’ 花見),  Japan will not disappoint on this front.  It’s a magical experience.

While many tourists envision their hanami experience like an anime opening (think wind blowing in your hair as sakura petals brush past your skin), the reality may differ somewhat.  To get the kind of hanami experience you’re dreaming of, it involves more than hopping on a plane and finding a sakura tree–it will take a whole ‘lotta planning. read more

My First (and only) Blind Date in Japan

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When I first moved to Japan as a young and naive new graduate, I had just undergone a horrific break up.  It involved boyfriends, best friends and backstabbing.  You know, the usual college drama.

At the same time, I was also ready to hit the dating scene.  I hadn’t been single in five years.  I was ready to paint the town red, party, go wild… and most of all: date.

Problem was: I lived in a very remote village.  There were no bars.  No restaurants.  No place to mingle and meet people.  Aside from 7-11. read more

How the Japanese Celebrate New Year

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The most important day of the year for the Japanese is New Year, and with it comes certain traditions and ceremonies.

Why don’t the Japanese celebrate Lunar New Year like the rest of Asia?

Unlike the Chinese (and the rest of Asia), Japan does not celebrate the lunar new year.  Japan’s new year holiday is every January 1st in alignment with western calendars.  In fact, Chinese New Year is known as 旧正月, or “old/former new year.”

The Japanese switched to the Gregorian calendar in the Meiji era, when the entire country was modernized due to western influences.  This is the era of the last samurai, of kimonos being traded for western dresses and suits, of guns and cannons in the battlefield.  Since then, the western calendar has stuck. read more

Spending Christmas in a Japanese Buddhist Temple

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Spending Christmas abroad is tough business.  I don’t really know how to put it into words, but something is just missing in the air.  Maybe it’s the commercialism.  Maybe it’s the exchange of presents, the Christmas parties, or even the cheesy songs on the radio.

Probably, it’s just the plain and simple fact that no one gives a crap about Christmas in Asia.

As I often mention on here, my life in Niigata was different from the typical foreigner.  I was extremely isolated.  Due to various falling outs with other foreigners, I was all alone.  I had no one to share Christmas with. read more

The Chinese Character of 2015

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Every year, Japanese citizens vote for a Chinese character (or kanji) to describe the events of the year and display it at the temple above.

This year’s character?

Safe.  Secure.  Stable.

When asked about the choice of character, many Japanese were quick to turn it into a negative.

“I think of 不安 (restless, worried),” said one woman.  “With the state the world is in, everything feels so uncertain.”

Others said the decision of the character 安 was a result of the recently passed security law (or the 安全保障法制), which has allowed Japan to actively participate in wars as a military power, much to the chagrin of the Japanese nationals. read more

Visiting Japan? 5 Reasons You Should Go to Nagano

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Chances are, most travelers never heard of Nagano.  Some people know it as that place in Japan that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics–but other than that, Nagano, unfortunately, still remains widely unknown.

Nagano is one of Japan’s larger prefectures located in the Shinshu region directly west of Tokyo (about a one hour bullet train ride away).  It is one of the most mountainous regions in Japan and is known for its snow, great peaks and amazing forests.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle! In Matsumoto City

Nagano is special to me, because it’s the first place I ever went to in Japan.  I did a one month study abroad program here, and it was nothing less than magical.  The mountains, the food, and most of all the kind hearts of the people in the countryside are what made me fall in love with this place–and convinced me to come back. read more

Hiroshima City: 70 Years After The Bombing

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When I lived in Japan, the most fascinating stories I heard were from none other than the grannies and grandpas.  They held no reservations and talked openly and freely about their memories, their thoughts, and their opinions. And since I was an American, they often told me stories about World War II.  They weren’t negative or hateful stories, but merely tales told from the depths of their memories.  Memories from a time long past.  A Japan that no longer existed.

“I remember listening to the radio with my family, about possible air raids from America and instructions for going to the shelters,” one of my adopted grandmothers said as she set up dinner for us, a feast of Japanese oden, tempura, miso soup and fish.  “I was so scared!” read more

Attending a Japanese Wedding

Attending a Japanese Wedding

So, it’s final.  In September I’ll be a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding in Brussels.  My plans for attending the wedding have been in the works for months, but finally I’ve booked all of the plane tickets and hotels, which makes it official.

After almost a year of not traveling, I’m finally going to Europe!

Yet, as I started thinking about wedding preparations I found myself at a loss…

Are French/Belgian weddings the same as American ones?  What is considered a ‘good’ wedding gift?  How do they work?  Is it ceremony and then reception, or is there some sort of legal service in between? read more

Should I Learn Chinese or Japanese?

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“Should I learn Japanese or Chinese?”

As a Japanese/Chinese interpreter and translator, it’s a question I get asked a lot.

Those that are crazy or masochistic enough to venture into the realm of Asian languages often stop and pause when it comes to choosing from the two giants of the East Asian languages: Japanese and Mandarin.

Choosing a language is important. Gaining fluency will take you hours, months, and perhaps years of your life. It’s not something to take lightly and, if used for future work purposes, is definitely worth consideration. read more

The Cherry Blossoms of Japan’s Snow Country, Niigata

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The harsh, cruel winter had come to a calm end. The roaring winds from the sea of Japan quieted to a whisper, and the walls of snow melted down into the nearby Shinano River, flowing along the rice fields and out into the open sea. The locals opened their windows to welcome in the fresh air of a spring long awaited, the sun a welcome sight from the months of grey skies and winter storms. In yukiguni—or snow country, as Niigata prefecture is famously known thanks to the Nobel prize winning book of the same name—winters can bring up to seven feet of snow fall. read more