Miyakojima Matsuri (Japanese Festival)

Matsuri (祭り)is the Japanese word for festival, and here in Miyajima (a small island near Okinawa) there are a lot of them. Miyako matsuri is a matsuri held for the celebration of summer and to officially acknowledge the new “Miss Miyako”.  There is also a carrying of an omikoshi (a portable shrine carried on the shoulder of a group of participants) as well as a tsunahiki (tug-o-war). I participated in the tsunahiki and my hands are still sore. We unfortunately lost 1-2. Once the event is over everyone scrambles to cut up the rope and take some home. The rope is considered good luck, regardless of whether you won or lost. If you are in Japan and have a chance to take part in a festival, go for it. They are a lot of fun. Here are some of the pictures from the event.

Hula girls in Miyakojima

Hula girls in Miyakojima

carrying the shrine

Carrying the shrine

Miss Miyako

Miss Miyako

Japanese tug of war

Japanese tug o war

more tug of war shots

Anoher tsunahiki shot

And lastly, here is a video from one of the pulls

Japanese Words List

  • Festival-まつり
  • Portable Shrine-おみこし
  • Tug-o-war-つなひき

Samurai-Why I Love Japan

I have loved martial arts since I was a small child. I even had karate gi pajamas. My love for the martial arts was what originally brought about my interest in Japan and the Japanese language.  So, when I came across this video on Twitter, I just had to share. The show is called “Best House” and this segment is about a very talented sword master cutting all kinds of stuff with precision. The video even has English subtitles. Here it is..

Getting Sick in Japan

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Having spent the last few days in bed with a high temperature due to a cold, I figured now would be a good time to talk about getting sick in Japan. The one topic I want to talk about in particular is medicine.

I have found cold medicine in Japan to be almost useless. Even when it is “prescription medicine”. The first time I ever had to go to the doctors in Japan was as a study abroad student. About two months after starting school I ended up with a pretty sever cold. Not something I would usually see a doctor for, but my throat hurt so bad I thought it was something else. After examining me the doctor prescribed a number of medications for me. I found the pharmacy, picked up my medications, and downed them as quickly as I could. Even though I had to take two types of pills and a packet of powder, there was almost no improvement in my condition. My throat still hurt and I felt miserable.

To look on the bright side, I ended up learning a few medical related Japanese words while I went through the process. I can even remember my Japanese teacher skipping ahead to the chapter on medical and body parts as the cold season started coming around (which turned out to be quite helpful). Still, not a very fun experience.

While Japan has a pretty good, and rather inexpensive health care system, it is still different from what you may be used to. Many of the common off the shelf medications you may be used to are not available here in Japan. Which is a bummer since I have found that “off the shelf” cold medicines in the US are much more effective than prescription cold medicine here in Japan.

So does this mean that if you catch a cold in Japan you just have to wait it out?

Nope, just that you need to plan ahead. Each time that I visit the US I pick up a few boxes of my favorite medicines and bring them back with me. This is a pretty common practice with a lot of the foreigners here in Japan. Do make sure to check with immigration regulations before bringing any medications into the Japan though.

If you will be in Japan for an extended amount of time you should also check on any prescription medicines you may need to take. A quick call to your nearest Japanese consulate to make sure you can either fill the prescription in Japan or bring enough for the time you are there should take care of that problem.

This may not be something you immediately think about when planning your trip to Japan, but making this preparation can make a big difference should you get sick while you are here.

Communicating In Japan If You don’t Speak Japanese

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Learning and communicating in a new language is a great experience. I can still remember the first time I really engaged in Japanese conversation. It was like I had passed through some invisible barrier. But what if you are traveling to Japan before you have had a chance to study much Japanese or need to get a point across you just don’t know the Japanese words for? The answer is actually easier than you might think. Do your best with Japanese and use simple, clear English where you don’t know the Japanese.

Japanese people are required to study English for 6 years in school. The problem is that the English teaching is focused on passing grammar tests rather than actually communicating. Since most of the English teachers are Japanese, they also don’t get the chance to hear English from native speakers. They do however learn a pretty large vocabulary.

So how does knowing this help you communicate in Japan?

  1. Most Japanese people understand grammar and have a large vocabulary, but don’t have much listening practice. Speak very clearly, use simple sentence structures, and be sure to leave small pauses in between each word.
  2. If you understand the Japanese alphabet pronounce the words using the Japanese syllables. For instance: hotel becomes “hoteru”.
  3. Lastly, if you are not able to get your point across verbally, write it down.

* The article was rewritten due to the original being lost due to a problem with the server. It is basically the same, but the wording may be slightly different.

Okinawan Music and Hula Dancing!

Last night I mentioned on Twitter (if you’re not following me, click here to get my updates) that I had attended a great event at Tokyu Resort here in Miyakojima (an island south west of Okinawa) and would be posting some videos. Well, here they are! I took more videos, but these are the only ones that came out decent enough to post.

As you can tell from the video, Okinawa’s culture is very distinct from that of Japan. If I had to describe it, I would say it is almost a mix of Chinese and Japanese culture. I fell In love with Okinawan music and dance the first time I visited here several years ago and it is still my favorite type of Japanese music.

The instrument in the last video is the sanshin, a three stringed banjo like instrument of Okinawa. I have recently started learning to play the sanshin myself and will post some videos once I get a little better. (it could be a while ;).

As a note, for those who might have difficult making out the Japanese words in Okinawan music, don’t worry about it. The language here can be quite different sometimes. The music is beautiful, but not the best for learning Japanese.

Traditional Okinawan dancing and drumming to a slightly modern song

A more traditional song and beat

Hula dance performed to “Nada Sou Sou” played on the sanshin and piano

Hanami in Japan

cherry-blossoms1

Spring is here and the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Or, at least so I am told. I moved from Tokyo to the warmer climate here in Miyakojima (a small island south west of Okinawa) and our few cherry blossoms or sakura bloomed in January. On the mainland however, the trees are in bloom and people, with cameras in hand are venturing out for one of the largest events in Japan, Hanami.

Hanami (花見) simply means “flower viewing” in English. 花, pronounced “hana” means “flower” and 見, pronounced “mi” is the character for “see” or “view”. So basically hanami is the activity of viewing flowers. It is important to mention that hanami is usually only used when talking about cherry blossoms or sakura (桜). For instance you wouldn’t use the word hanami to view roses.

Hanami is an event that has been practiced for many many years and holds a great deal of meaning for the Japanese culture. The sakura (cherry blossom), which blooms suddenly and beautifully only blooms for a period of a couple of days and then falls to the ground. Especially in the days of the samurai, sakura was was a symbol for how beautiful and short life really is.

In modern day Japan, hanami has lost none of it’s popularity, and people still gather in large numbers for this amazing event. Probably the most common way to celebrate hanami is for groups of friends to gather for picnics and drinking under the cherry blossoms. The meaning itself however, seems to have changed from a reflection of life to more of an event for social gathering and drinking.

For those who are planning to visit Japan, sakura generally bloom from late March to mid April depending on the weather. It only last for a few days and comes with the first warm days for spring, so it can be somewhat hard to time. It is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Japan and definitely worth the trying for!

Japanese words

  • cherry blossom- 桜 さくら
  • flower viewing- 花見 はなみ
  • to bloom- 咲く さく