Japanese Language Blog

Hajimemashite, Japan Posted by on Jul 17, 2012 in Culture, Uncategorized

こんにちは Transparent Japanese blog! My name is Sasha, and I’ll be a guest writer/video producer on the blog for the next few months. As I currently reside in Beijing, you can usually find me on the Chinese blog. I’ve also contributed to both the Thai and Spanish pages, so if you’re interested in China, Thailand, or Mexico, feel free to check out some of my previous work.

Let me begin by saying that my Japanese is basically non-existent. Aside from “こんにちは” and “ありがとう”, the only Japanese word I know is はじめまして (hajimemashite). One of my favorite bands, Umphrey’s McGee, has a song by this name. In Japanese, it means “nice to meet you.” It’s my favorite song of theirs, and thus my favorite Japanese word. They even sell a t-shirt with the song’s name in Japanese!

UM performing “Hajimemashite” at the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan in 2006.

Anyways… I’ve made two short trips to Japan while living in China, so I’ve come here to share my stories, photos, and videos with all of you lovely people who are interested in the language and culture of Japan. Without further adieu, let’s get on with the show…


First impressions aren’t everything, but they sure as hell can have a lasting effect. After taking the hour long train ride into Tokyo from Narita airport, I realized that I couldn’t wait until I found my hostel to use a bathroom. Having grown accustomed to the lackluster public restrooms of Beijing (and China in general), I was fearful about what I’d encounter. For those who haven’t yet paid a visit to the Middle Kingdom, let me paint a disturbing picture for you:

The toilet from the future!

First, a distinct and pungent odor hits your nose when you’re still a good 20 meters away from the door. Upon entering, you are greeted by a few holes in the ground that apparently double as toilets. Of course, there are no doors or walls separating them, there isn’t a single sheet of TP to be found, and to top it all off, there isn’t a drop of soap. As I had been living in China for 10 solid months without leaving the country once, I was so used to this scene that I just expected to encounter it again in Japan. Thankfully, that was not the case. Even in a subway station, I found myself in a pristinely clean bathroom with no discernible stink. There were walls, and even doors on the toilets! I opened one up, and it was just like opening a door on an old-school gameshow – “Congratulations! You’ve just won the coolest toilet ever!” – inside I found the most miraculous and futuristic throne I had ever seen, with a control panel that featured such options as a bidet, an odorizer, a “sound muffler”, and even a seat warmer. Not only that, but the thing was stocked full of TP as far as the eye could see. Just in case that stockpile were to run out, there was even a vending machine offering it up for just 100 yen – what a novel concept! To top it all off, there was even an abundance of soap. Before I got back on the subway, I took out my notebook and jotted this down –  “Japan – 1, China – 0.”

The busiest crossing in the world - in Shibuya, Tokyo.

I promise you I’m not going to talk about toilets anymore, but I feel like the impeccable public restrooms of Tokyo say a lot about Japan, its people, and its culture. During my two short jaunts to the Land of the Rising Sun, I was constantly impressed by the friendliness, helpfulness, and yes, cleanliness of Japanese people. When compared with other big cities (i.e. Beijing or New York), Tokyo definitely wins all three categories in a landslide. It’s a vibrant, modern, and incredibly exciting metropolis, and an amazing place to visit. Navigate your way through the complex and overwhelming metro system, hop off on a random stop, and you’re sure to find something interesting. From the hip and trendy areas of Shinjuku and Shibuya, to the historical Asakusa, to the anime and electronics wonderland of Akihabara, there’s something for everyone in Tokyo. After all, in what other city in the world could you start your day with a hearty sushi breakfast at a fish market, spend your morning wandering around ancient temples and shrines, your afternoon watching a sumo tournament, your evening meandering through the fashionable streets of trendy neighborhoods – people watching, eating, drinking, and eventually winding up drunkenly singing in a karaoke bar – all before you stumble back to your capsule hotel for a few hours of sleep before beginning an entirely new adventure the next day?

Ancient vs. Modern Tokyo

Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖, Ashi-no-ko) in Hakone.

Although it’s easy to spend a solid week wandering around the many unique neighborhoods of Tokyo, you’d be selling Japan short if you didn’t get out of the capital to explore a bit. Thankfully I was able to do this on my second and most recent trip, as we spent a few days enjoying the postcard worthy scenery of Hakone (箱根). Easily accessible by train from the city, Hakone features a stunning lake, views of Mt. Fuji (though only on extra clear days), a series of excellent museums and galleries, and its main draw – the natural hot springs that feed the onsen (温泉), or hot baths where people go to relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of life in Tokyo. Book a room in a traditional Japanese ryokan (旅館), where you’ll enjoy massive meals at both breakfast and dinner, stunning views of the countryside, and a good night’s sleep on a tatami bed.

Of course, there’s much more to see and do in Japan. Unfortunately, I was limited by time constraints on both trips. You can rest assured that I’ll be making a third trip (and potentially many more) to this amazing country. From the ancient castles, to the cultural wonder that is Kyoto, to the awe-inspiring Mt. Fuji, there’s still quite a bit of Japan that remains high on my bucket list. In the meantime, I look forward to sharing my tales of Tokyo and Hakone with you, our wonderful and dedicated readers.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Dan TEmpleton:

    I have just started to relearn japanese. I too lived in China for 8 years and just moved back to Texas/Colorado. I have traveled to Japan, spent 2 weeks and have a number of friends in China from Japan. I really love the country and the people I have met. I too have a limited vocab.