Suicide due to Overwork

A lot of people know that Japan is in the top five countries with the highest suicide rates. Suicide is a sad thing, but it occurs daily in Japan. Whether the person is male or female, young or old, rich or poor, just a few of these suicides will ever be covered by the mass media. But on December 25, 2015, there was a suicide so unique that it ‘shook Japan’s earth.’ A suicide that was so sad that it stirred the hearts of the Japanese. This suicide victim was a young lady named Matsuri Takahashi. 

(As a side note: back in November 2018, I had promised you that I would write a blog about my research paper. I spent many months writing it. I passed my research paper, I have graduated, and I am already back in my home country. I will quote some parts of my research paper here. You can read my Research Paper here)

The first time I heard about her story, I was still in the Netherlands. I was already accepted by APU, and I was in the process of preparing myself for my departure to Japan. Her story had reached the other side of the world. It was translated and discussed on the internet, and I was intrigued by it. The topic, suicide, has always been of interest to me, and I always been fascinated by its concept. I always try to understand how someone can reach such a point in life to choose not to be amongst us anymore. 

As a Muslim, it is difficult to grasp the concept of suicide, as we believe that God has given us the most precious gift ever, which is to be, to exist, and to be alive. Therefore, making an end to one’s life, which was given to us, is tough to understand. When I read about Matsuri Takahashi’s story, I wondered if I shouldn’t look into the case and write my thesis on this. In the initial stage, my topic was to investigate the cultural differences between the Dutch and Japanese culture, but my curiosity was too big to leave this case uninvestigated. 

The story

“Matsuri Takahashi was born in 1991. She was born in Hiroshima Prefecture, but she grew up in Shizuoka Prefecture. Matsuri Takahashi entered Tokyo University (from here on referred to as Tōdai) as a scholarship student exempted from tuition fees. As reported by Tōdai Shimbun (May 16, 2017), the Tōdai newspaper, many students that join the Tokyo University come from wealthy families. Matsuri Takahashi, however, was not from a wealthy family. She was economically disadvantaged, but it did not stop her from trying to get into Tōdai. She was encouraged by her teachers from her high school (Midoraka High School in Shizuoka
Prefecture).

In April 2015, right after Matsuri Takahashi graduated from Tokyo University, she started her job at Dentsu Inc. As reported by Japan Today (October 24, 2016), when entering Dentsu Inc. as a new employee, they undergo training of, approximately six months. Here, Matsuri Takahashi quickly became one of the top trainees as she earned her respect within the company. However, after finishing the training, reality hit her hard. She became a regular employee, and the expectations of her superiors were high, the working days were long, and there was much stress on the work floor.

The cause of the stress was due to the understaffing of the Internet Advertising department, where she was a member of, Dentsu Inc. was embarrassed with some scandals at that time and, and as a result, they had to reorganise at the expense of their employees. For Matsuri Takashi, this meant much overwork. She clocked 105 hours of overwork (regular hours + 105 hours).

In order to deal with stress, she needed a platform to vent her anger and frustrations. This was Twitter. She would use Twitter to express her anger and frustrations about the company and the long overwork hours. Here she was detailed, honest, and vocal about the way the company would treat workers here. She expressed issues such as power harassment, bullying, overwork, and sexual harassment.

But on 25th of December, 2015, Yukimi Takahashi, the mother of Matsuri Takahashi, received an email from Matsuri Takahashi (Japan Today, 2016). In that email, Matsuri Takahashi wrote:

Work is unbearable. Life is unbearable. Thank you for everything.

Her mother read the email, and she understood its meaning. She immediately ran to the
phone and called Matsuri. Matsuri picked up the phone, and her mother told her that death was not the answer. The mother pleaded to her daughter to leave the company. Matsuri Takahashi replied: ‘Okay, mother.’ Unfortunately, this plea was not enough to dissuade her from killing herself” (Ennahachi, 2019). 

Matsuri Takahashi passed away at the age of 24

My research

Obviously, my research is quite lengthy (Edit: my research paper can be found here; The Death That Shook Japan’s Earth: A Case Study of Matsuri Takahashi(高橋まつり)) , so I will try to condense it for you. My research question was: “What would be the role of SNS in making Matsuri Takahashi’s case unique enough to lead to the first White Paper in 2016?” In other words, I was curious about how her case was unique and why. Because her death did not only stir the hearts of the Japanese, but it even affected politics.

In Japan, death due to overwork has a name. It is called Karōshi (過労死)But in my research, I found that this term was not very applicable to Matsuri’s case. Karōshi is a medical term used since the 80s when in the economic boom in Japan, a lot of salarymen in their 40s started to die at work. They had spent so much time at work without any rest they would die of heart attacks or a stroke. But this is called a ‘Sudden Death.’ In Matsuri’s case, she chose not to live anymore. This is something called Karōjisatsu (過労自殺), or suicide due to overwork. 

Image result for overwork japan funny

Disclosing information on Twitter

Matsuri Takahashi tweeted about her pain and suffering on a daily base. She would describe her issues about her superiors, the long working hours, and about her break-up with her boyfriend. It is not a common thing for a Japanese person to openly talk about the bad things about the company, but she did. In her tweets, she would describe the sexual harassments, the lack of sleep, spending all her time at work, and more. These tweets (in Japanese) can still be found online. The way she wrote the tweets was interesting. Unconsciously, she wrote it in a diary manner. When I went through every single tweet, Matsuri Takahashi gave an insight into her life. Sadly though, the tweets only became relevant after she died. If she did not die, her tweets would have, probably, meant nothing.

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“Isn’t it funny? I am finally going home” 4 AM Japan local time. (The time indicated here is Dutch local time)

But her death, her tweets, the way she wrote, and the content was the big factor that gave power to her story. Furthermore, if Matsuri Takahashi had written her pain in a physical diary, there would probably not received the same attention by the media and by the Japanese people. But because it is online, the Japanese people can read the tweets any time of the day, and even share it with others. The Japanese people were able to sympathise with her story and read her pain first hand.

There is a certain power in disclosing information about oneself. She disclosed her opinions, her pain, her life, her emotions, and it was all true because she would have never known that her tweets would be found by anyone except for her friends. She had no agenda, except for venting on a platform as a last resort.

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“I want to die is all I can think of and even if I overcome that what is there for me, end of the day?”

Gender

What if Matsuri Takahashi was a young male, and ‘he’ would have done all the things above, would ‘he’ receive the same traction by the people and the media?” I asked this question to myself, to my supervisor, and my peers, and we all came to the same conclusion: No, it would have never been picked up. There is something in Japan that I would call a ‘Samurai culture.’ It is expected of the men to die while carrying out their duty. Samurais would protect a town, and they would “live by the sword and die by the sword.” Japanese women could never be a Samurai, and therefore, they would never die on duty. But in our century, the Japanese women have to work too, and they have to carry the hardships of work with them too just like the men. When a woman dies on duty, it receives the attention of the media as this should not have happened.

In other words, being a young lady, committing suicide due to overwork, played a big role in the uniqueness of her case. I believe that her age played an important role too. If she would have been 50 years old, I do not believe it would receive the same attention either. She was merely 24, at the start of her life. Furthermore, she graduated from the most prestigious university in Japan: Tokyo University.

Because she was a young lady, the sexual harassment tweets were very troublesome to read. Women in Japan are quite marginalised on the work floor. Yes, I agree it is changing, but change by Japanese standards is very, very, very slow. Yes, Japanese women are working more, but it is nothing compared to the West. As a Japanese lady, you either go full into the work life, and never marry and have no children, or marry and have children, and stay at home. Matsuri Takahashi worked hard every day, but was not rewarded for her devotion, but rather scolded on why she wasn’t dressed ‘pretty.’ In my opinion, she was gorgeous, but these comments by her superiors were just power and sexual harassments.

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“My boss told me I lack femininity and I thought it was a joke – But he seems to be pushing it too far. Unfortunately, I wish I could tell him that despite his skin bald head, he too lacks masculinity. This sucks and is very depressing.” 5 days before her suicide

How it affected me

Her case was unique due to all the factors mentioned above. Her suicide was very unfortunate and saddened me a lot. In one of her tweets, she would write that she would finally go home at 4 AM. When I read through all her tweets and learning more about the dark side of Japan, I decided that I wanted to start a life in Europe, and not in Japan.

It was my biggest dream to come to Japan and perhaps start a life there. Japan is an amazing and beautiful place. The people, the landscape, the culture, and the language, the food, and whatnot is incredible. It was a privilege to have studied there. But there is one huge factor that I would never be able to cope, which is their work life. 

You see, work in Japan is not a torture, it is an absolute hell. I am saying all of this from a Dutch perspective. In Holland, we have, I believe, the best work-life balance in the world. We work from eight to five or nine to six, and we work five days a week. We have, on average, 25 days of paid leaves (+ national holidays), and we can relax and enjoy our lives. 

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Source: http://fortune.com/2017/02/24/japan-karoshi-death-by-overwork/

In Japan, however, it is a norm to work on a minimum of ten hours a day. Even if you have finished your work by six, you have to remain at the office until your manager leaves. But your manager awaits his manager to leave, so in the end, you will be spending four to six hours waiting for your boss. Leaving at six will be a huge insult to your colleagues and manager. If one does leave at six, the company will think you are not devoted enough. You will receive a huge backlash, such as bullying. 

I was living and studying in Beppu, which is in the Kyushu prefecture. Beppu is one and a half hours away from Tokyo, by plane. So, we were quite in the countryside. But even there I noticed that rush hour was at 10 PM. The train station was crowded with the Japanese people. People were finally going home. The sad thing is it was not just the working people who were finally going home, but also the children. Yes, the children too.

In Japan, the children will go to school from eight till three. But after school, they will go to the baseball club, tutoring school, piano class, or whatever. I noticed that children cannot be children as much they can be here in the West. Kids fall asleep in class, working people fall asleep during work, in the metro, train, and etc, because they lack time to relax. Their time is dictated by society. 

With my observations and my research into overwork culture in Japan, I decided that it would be better to come back home. Many of my friends from developing countries see Japan as a great opportunity to level up their lives, and I respect them a lot. Coming from countries such as Bangladesh or Indonesia, life in Japan is much better. I learned a lot from my stay in Japan, and I learned to appreciate the things I have in the West. But the work life in Japan is not for me. If I would ever become a multi-millionaire, I would love to live in Japan as Japan is still a fantastic country, which I would recommend anyone to visit at least once.

Source: https://dilbert.com/strip/1993-11-02

As always, thank you for reading! 

 

Masha’Allah

 

References

Ennahachi, Z. (2019). The Death That Shook Japan’s Earth: A Case Study of Matsuri Takahashi (高橋 まつり) (Master Graduate Research Paper). Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Beppu, Japan.

Japan Today. (2016, October 24). Dentsu’s ‘power harassment hell.’ Retrieved from
http://www.japantoday.com

Nippon.com. (2016, November 3). Japan’s First “Karōshi” White Paper. Retrieved from
http://www.nippon.com.

Todai Shimbun. (2017, May 16). Tokyo University on Matsuri Takahashi about death due
to overwork. Retrieved from http://www.todaishimbun.org.

Oi, Baka Gaijin!?

You are going to stay in the land of the rising sun for more than a year. The land of the samurai, geisha, kimono, karate, karaoke, and whatnot! You arrived in the Summer and it is bloody hot. Look! Vending machines everywhere! You run to the vending machine and toss ¥130 in the vending machine and you for the delicious cold tea. You take your bottle out of the machine and walk back. You open the bottle and you drink from it. The Japanese started eye balling you. You noticed it, but you are too thirsty. You wink at them: “Daijoubu, baka gaijin desu” (it is oke, I am an idiot foreigner).

You read the title of this blog post, you probably are thinking this has something to do with things to avoid in Japan so the Japanese do not look down on you. You are probably thinking this is one of those guidelines where small cultural differences are pointed out that you probably did not think of before coming to Japan. One of them is, for instance, putting your chopsticks vertical in your rice bowl. Chopsticks put vertically in a bowl is only done at a funeral and not in a restaurant. You know, there are hundreds of websites explaining these kinds of things. This blog post, however, will do the OPPOSITE. Things you could get away with as a BAKA GAIJIN (stupid foreigner).

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Ru-ru (Rules)

“Wow chotto a minute, Zack-san. Nani the fuck are you doing? Shouldn’t you tell your readers how to adapt to their culture?” Just bear with me for a moment. This blog post is NOT to aggravate the Japanese or to kick them on their leg. I am not saying that at all. I am going to explain how one can stay sane in Japan with the zillion rules they are having.

Japan is a conservative country where the individual matters less than the group. It is a collective society where everyone is a small cog in a bigger machine. In order to keep the machine running, the Japanese society has put many written and unwritten rules (norms) on their people. These rules and norms are taught to children and abided till the grave. Most of the rules correspond to what we know in the west as the 10 commandments. These commandments are universal, such as, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie, and etc. These rules apply in every country and it makes sense.

When you go deeper into a culture, you will find different types of norms that you are not used to. Here is when things become interesting. These norms are so common to the locals when an international person joins the community and unaware of the norms, the local people tend to forget that their norms are not common abroad. But as they have been living in their ‘box’ for so long, it feels like a natural thing. In the West, making noise when eating (munching) is considered disgusting and annoying, wherein other cultures they do not know about the concept and it is a common thing to them.

Adapting yourself to these weird norms is a plus and appreciated. I recommend people to try to adjust as much as possible to the local culture. If slurping noodles show your appreciation for the food to the one who cooked it, then just make the slurping noises, because the opposite means you do not like the food and it is considered an insult. On a superficial level, adapting to the norms that are visible is fine. Kind of a monkey see, monkey do type of adjustment.

Too many rules
Too many rules Source

But as the Japanese are all small cogs in a bigger machine, adjusting yourself to become a cog in their machine is near impossible. You are also a cog within your own society, but a cog with different teeth that moves differently from the Japanese society. The Japanese society is very tough and extremely demanding of an individual for the sake of the greater good.

You will ALWAYS hear the phrase ‘Ganbatte kudasai’. Loosely translated, it means to do your best. But the cultural implications are far severe than the weak English translation. It means:

“…to endure, to not give up, to be patient and long suffering, to continue a difficult or stressful task as long it may be necessary to succeed, to try one’s very best to accomplish something. It means simply to put up quietly and patiently with an uncomfortable or unpleasant situation (including an obnoxious co-worker, a mean boss, or a difficult customer) without complaining or becoming openly angry (so as not to cause embarrassment, create social disharmony, or disturb others’ feelings).” (Meek 1999).

The society pushes the Japanese beyond their limitations and beyond their capabilities. As an international in Japan, you are expected to work as hard as they do. This means working from 7 AM till 11 PM. Murimuri, dekinai (impossible, I cannot). As a Dutchman, I will tell you this. I will leave the office at 6 PM, I turn off my work phone, I will not check my email until the next morning. In the Netherlands we say: ‘If there is work today, there is work tomorrow’. Work is endless and it will never finish. We prefer to spend time with our friends and family, and we make a CLEAR border between our private life and work life.

Daijoubu Baka Gaijin Desu

That said, I will give you some examples of my baka gaijin moments. One of the things the Japanese have is patience. I consider myself quite a patient person, but the Japanese are masters of having patience. A red traffic light at 23:30, I am on foot, there are no cars, no bikes, no human being near, heck not even animals are at the intersection. I will jaywalk. I am not going to wait on nothing. Here in the south of Japan the traffic lights do not have a sensor (or anywhere else). The traffic lights are hard coded and they as they programmed to do. Japanese on the other hand, they will wait patiently until the red light turns green as it is taboo to cross on a red light. I refuse to waste my time on nothing, I will shamelessly cross the street.

Silence in the train
Silence in the train is one of the rules in Japan Source

I recently rented a car with my friends. Sometimes I would make a mistake in a turn as the GPS confused me. I would go into another street and turn there (when there are no cars). My friends told me to keep driving and turn later, nope I am a baka gaijin, daijoubu desu. It was not against the rules, there were no cars, I turn the car.

Drinking and eating while walking is a no-no in Japan….. Seriously?! Listen, I am 1.85m and 88kg. When I am hungry and in a hurry, I do not give two flying Fssss about this rule. I will grab something and eat while underway. While I am writing this it is mid-summer, 32 degrees outside with a humidity of 90%. I will look for a vending machine and buy myself a cool drink and drink it all while walking. It is ‘taboo’ but heck, I will play my  gaijin card for this one. It is toooooo darn hot in Japan!

Cannot say ‘no’ to things, I have to phrase it as ‘ano’, ‘chotto’, ‘eto ne’ ‘hmmm’. Nope, if I do not want X, I will give a direct and a clear no. Of course, my tone is not harsh in anyway, but I HATE the read-in-between-the-lines answers. The same goes for the opposite, if do want to do X, I well let you know with a straight answer yes!

There are so many rules in Japan, it makes living in such a society very difficult. ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down’ is a real proverb being used in Japan. Meaning, you need to stay conform to the society. The one thing that I cannot stand is the job hunting dress code. All the young people looking for a job are all in black suits with black shoes and a black suitcase. The ladies need to have their hair in a ponytail, not dyed, and more nonsense like that. You can read more about these dumb job hunting rules here.

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Source

The society looks down on those who are sticking out and the people are afraid of being excommunicated. Whenever you praise a Japanese person for something they are good at, let’s say a Japanese person who is very good at speaking English, you tell the person, ‘wow your English is very good!’ The Japanese person will not say ‘thank you (for the compliment)’ but rather ‘no, no, no I am bad at speaking English.’ Even though the person is clearly good at it, the Japanese person cannot accept the compliment as this shows that the person is boasting himself and thus sticking out. And sticking out means getting hammered down.

Rules but no consequences?

As the Japanese are afraid of breaking the rules, they will not dare to question them either. それがルールです (those are the rules). When asking why these rules are there and what are their purpose the answer will be: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

But during my stay in Japan, I have learned that there are rules and there are rules. Clear rules that have big consequences are there to protect people. Drinking and driving don’t go hand in hand, therefore, there is a rule that makes this forbidden. These rules I can of course support. You break this rule, you deserve to lose your driver’s license. Clear rule and clear consequences that are upheld by the arms of the law.

But there are also rules that are there just to keep people in line but they have no consequences…. The previous rule I mentioned is more on a national level, but when you go to an organizational level some rules are there but no one really upholds them. One of my professors from overseas showed me that he is not allowed to park his car in front of the university. But he does it anyway for years and the school does nothing. The rule is there, but no consequences.

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Diving in the metro Source

Another weird thing is that at my school when we do our proctoring (keeping an eye on the undergraduates when they have their exams) we need to “prevent them from cheating” and not catching them with cheating. Before the exam even starts we have to put up a big screen that states that if they are caught cheating there will be SEVERE consequences for them such as losing their tuition reduction and even worse getting expelled. But when we do find them cheating and we would like to remove them from the exam room, the academic office will start attacking the proctors as we all need to have witnessed the cheating and take full responsibility that indeed this person cheated.

The university is terrified of expelling students for cheating as this probably will ruin their reputation or whatever. As there are no clear consequences for the students they keep cheating. Rules, but no consequences….

The Japanese do not expect the foreigners to fully understand everything in Japan and they will play their Nihonjinron card (vague way of describing the things that make the Japanese Japanese) as well. It is a win-win situation. Of course, I try to behave myself in their society and adapt myself as much as possible. But the Japanese society is very strict on the individual and for those who did not grow up in Japan, it is extremely hard to stay sane if you really want to adhere to every single rule. From time to time it is okay to play your Gaijin card. And when you really do not want to be bothered, you could play your ultimate gaijin card, just say:

Nihongo o tabemasen (日本語をたべません, I do not eat Japanese language)

As always thank you for reading my blogs. I appreciate your kind words and your ideas!

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In Japanese: baka gaijin Source

Masha’Allah

References:

Meek, C.M. (1999). Ganbatte: Understanding the Japanese Employee.

Harmonious Gift-Giving

Gifts here, gifts there, gifts everywhere. Valentine’s day and Asian New Year have just recently passed, and there is a big chance you have been receiving gifts from your Japanese friends. You are grateful for all these gifts, but you probably have no clue why you keep getting gifts, and you probably not sure what to do from there on out. After receiving so many gifts, you probably feel guilty for not giving something back. Don’t worry; you are not the only one who feels like that.

“Happy whatever-day, I have a small gift for you.” Oh boy, not again… Usually, I would be happy receiving a gift from someone. Where I come from, I will receive a gift for my birthday, Christmas, Eid-al-Fitr, for my graduation, for helping someone who required help, and so on. Most of the time, these gifts feel like an accomplishment for doing something that needs to be rewarded (except for Christmas). One would throw a party first where you provide lots of food, cake, and drinks, and people would come over to celebrate your birthday and gift you a nice birthday present. Without a birthday party, you will probably not receive many birthday gifts.

However, in Japan, gift-giving for accomplishments is also embedded in the culture, but it goes much deeper than that. In Japan, one gives a gift not just to celebrate something but also to keep balance and harmony. Balance means the equality between two parties, and harmony is the relationship between the two parties. In Japan, giving a gift is to preserve the relationship between one and another. It means something along the line: “I would like to remain close to you, and therefore I give you this gift so we can extend our relationship,” simply put.

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Omiyage (お土産)
You better memorize the word ‘omiyage.’ You will hear this word a lot. The word ‘omiyage’ can be loosely translated to ‘souvenir’ or ‘gift.’ Omiyage is BIG business in Japan. There are omiyage shops everywhere. In places where you probably will get lost, you might find an omiyage shop that sells different kinds of omiyage. As Japanese people love to travel, they will always buy the local omiyage to bring home.

Most of the time, the omiyage shows the name of the city or place, and this can prove you were there. This doesn’t come by surprise as the kanji omiyage 土産 exists of two parts. 土 means local and 産 means product. These omiyage are then shared with friends, colleagues, and family members that are close to them. This social behaviour reveals that the Japanese let their friends, colleagues, and family members know that they had not forgotten about them even when they were travelling.

The majority of omiyage, which I have seen so far, is in the form of cookies and sweets. The cookies and sweets represent the local taste that cannot be found somewhere else most of the time. This makes gift-giving a unique thing to do. It is to bring the local taste closer to the people that are dear to them. The packaging is as important as the content. The gift must be stylish and/or cute. The more stylish and/or cute, the more it shows you have put effort into selecting the person’s gift. If the gift is not wrapped in beautifully, do not even think about sharing your ‘gift’ as it insults the receiver. The omiyage is an extension of you, and thus it represents you and your intentions. Though, if the gift cannot be gift wrapped because of its form, then alternatively, you can offer your omiyage in a nice omiyage-bag.

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Harmonious pressure
“The gift-giving thing is great! It shows how much the person cares about you. How can this be bad?” I would not necessarily call it bad. The harmonious gift-giving is, in my view, a beautiful thing as it keeps the relationship steady. Though, the moment you receive an omiyage, you become part of the harmonious gift-giving system. The gift-giver has revealed that he/she is grateful for your help and/or cherishes you being a colleague and/or friend. This concept is also known as ‘on‘ (恩) (Meek, 1999). ‘On‘ is quite tricky to translate into English, but it can come close to the words indebtedness and gratefulness.

In Japan, as the person feels indebted/grateful, it is now his moral obligation or also known as ‘giri‘ (義理), to return this favour to you. In order to express his gratitude, the person will give you an omiyage. In the gift giver’s mind, the favour has been returned, and harmony has been preserved. However, the gift receiver feels obligated to return this favour as he now feels indebted. The gift receiver wants to return this favour because he feels that the act before was not worth receiving an omiyage for as he feels that it was just part of the ‘giri’ to help in the first place.

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Source: https://cdn.tatcha.com

The harmonious gift-giving system is only viable if one can afford it. You see, when one receives a gift, it is necessary to figure out the price of the gift. The gift-giver will not tell you as it is a gift. To keep balance and harmony amongst yourself, you do not want to give an omiyage that is cheaper or more expensive than the one the gift-giver gave you. That will disturb the balance in your relationship (Star Wars pun intended).

You might feel burdened because you will need to do a bit of an investigation to figure out the price of the omiyage you have received and buy an omiyage of the same price for the gift giver. Of course, this omiyage should be something else than the one you had received, but the price should remain the same. But imagine that the person bought you an expensive gift and you cannot afford to return it. As this gift-giving is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture, you will receive many omiyage from many people, which you will need to return in a different form.

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My Japanese language teacher from the Netherlands told us that women would keep a list of which present they had received, the gift’s price, and from who they had received it. If one needs to return the favour, it is imperative to administrate the gifts. She told us that the gift-giving culture was very stressful as some families could not always afford it, which brings tensions to the relationship. The gift-giving culture is not always about the actual item or the packaging. Of course, this should be very nice and neat, but it is about the act. These families that cannot afford to return the favour would re-use the omiyage they had received, re-wrap it, and gift it to other people.

As for me, I have felt this pressure myself as well. I felt burdened with receiving gifts. I kept receiving gifts, but I had nothing to return. I had to buy something that represents me. Luckily a store in Oita called Kaldi is selling all kinds of food from all over the globe. Fortunately, they also sell ‘stroopwafels’ (Dutch waffles with caramel inside). I would then share the stroopwafels with the people who gave me an omiyage before. I did this to keep harmony with my peers.

You might think you have found a hack to avoid this harmonious gift-giving by not accepting the gift in the first place. 🙂 guess again. That is even a bigger insult. You have to accept it, and you are immediately inside the gift-giving loop. If you plan to come to Japan or already are, start stacking lots of omiyage from your home country. I heard from my friends that they would bring a big suitcase filled with their home country’s omiyage. Believe me when I say you will need it, and it will never be enough ;).

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Masha’Allah

References

Meek, C.M. (1999). Ganbatte: Understanding the Japanese Employee.

Japanese food is life, Japanese food is love.

I had heard and read many stories about Japanese cuisine before I came to Japan. If someone I knew had visited Japan and asked them about the food, their eyes go wide open. And their smile is from ear to ear, and a tsunami of details about all the food they have tried and how incredibly delicious it was. I have to admit, I have become such a person now :p.

The food is indeed amazing, and the Japanese are magicians when it comes to food. They will make something straightforward into something beautiful. There is also no lack of food whatsoever. Food is a massive industry in Japan. In 2015, Japan’s food industry was valued at $261 billion (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 2016). Rightfully so, as food is everywhere in Japan. In the darkest and weirdest alleys, you will find a place to eat. So in this blog post, I will share with you my personal top 5 Japanese food:

5: Chicken curry
I was stunned when I learned that the Japanese LOVE curry with rice. When you think of Japanese cuisine, you probably thinking about the classic/stereotypical food sushi. But the Japanese are fond of curry. The first time I went to a supermarket, I saw a section all dedicated to curry. I cannot name half of them, but there were all sorts of curries such as beef, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetable from what I could see. The Japanese use rice as their main dish; they love to add curry to their rice. The curry is very easy to prepare. They come in an aluminum sealed package. All you need to do is either put the aluminum package in a pan with water and boil it for a few minutes or put it in a bowl and microwave it for 6 minutes. Within minutes you have a great dish. There are big curry chains in Japan fully dedicated to curry rice. One of the biggest is Curry House CoCo Ichibanya. They have all curry versions, and if you love spicy food, they can make it extremely spicy for you. Even though I am very used to spicy food, I could barely handle level 5. A friend of mine took number 8, and he was crying and sweating like a pig the entire lunch. You are warned :p.

For me, I love the (halal) chicken curry that is provided by the shop at my school campus. The chicken curry is creamy, smells fantastic, and I love the chicken because it is heavily spiced. The chicken curry is already in a small plastic bowl with rice, and I only need to microwave it. Since my stay here in Japan, I have tried several curries as in my country, curry is not a real common thing to eat. But this spicy chicken curry rice really takes the cake :).

Chicken curry

4: Okonomiyaki
The first time I tried okonomiyaki was by accident. A friend of mine thought the restaurant was making udon soup, but it turned out to be okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a batter of flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, green onion, octopus, and other vegetables. Though there is no one standard. Okonomiyaki is derived from 2 words ‘okonomi,’ which means ‘whatever you like’ and ‘yaki’ means ‘grilled.’ You sit on the table, and you can ask the waiter to bring you the okonomiyaki, and you grill it yourself. The table where you sit has a hot grill. The experience is excellent. You are your own cook, and you can make funny ‘pancakes’ of your favourite ingredients.
If this is your first time, you can ask the restaurant to make the okonomiyaki on your behalf. So what about the taste? Mamma mia… it is delicious and healthy. Your body will be overjoyed for all the vitamins it gets. Your tongue will be overjoyed as well as the balance in the taste is excellent. The grilled flavour of the batter gives it an extra edge. The interesting part is that you can add the things you love. I always add squid, octopus, and cheese. Oishi!

Okonomiyaki.jpg

3: Ramen
If you have watched the anime show Naruto you know that Naruto could not start his day without eating ramen. Naruto would go crazy about ramen every time he walked past the shop. If you lost Naruto, you would find him at the Ichiraku Ramen shop. This show amazed me and made me curious about ramen. The first time I tried ramen was, funny enough, in Amsterdam at the Sapporo Ramen Sora. Fortunately, for me, the ramen was cooked in a miso base. For your information, the vast majority of ramen has a broth made without pork. When my friend introduced me to this ramen, I remember the first bite quite clearly. IT WAS AMAZING. The ramen was unbelievably good. The number of vegetables, the (miso) broth, and the spices had a perfect balance. No wonder Naruto would go crazy with the thought of eating Ramen.
Unfortunately, Japan is not very on the hype when it comes to providing food for vegetarians. The vast majority of food has either pork, beef, or chicken. We Muslims cannot eat pork, but we can also not eat beef and chicken that is not prepared the Islamic way. This is called ‘Halal,’ or perhaps you are more familiar with the Hebrew term ‘Kosher.’ Luckily, there is one restaurant that provides ramen prepared with soy milk and fish stock instead of pork in Beppu. As such, Muslims can also eat ramen at Ittoryu. The ramen is fantastic. There is an egg, noodles, seaweed, and various vegetables in the big bowl of ramen. But the magical power of ramen is the broth. You do not go for the noodles, but for the robust, tasty soup. Even if you would, you cannot leave a single drop in the bowl as you want to drink all of it.
Tip: For my Muslim brothers and sisters; download the app Halal Navi. This app will show you the places that have halal food available to you in Japan :). For Android users. For IOS users.

Ramen.jpg

2: Sushi
A bit of a cliché, I know. But I cannot deny my true feelings towards this. I just love sushi. The quality of sushi you will get in Japan really differs from what I had in Europe. I can tell in the way the fish is prepared and the taste of rice. The texture is amazing. Not only that, but the experience of eating sushi in the restaurant is also fun. Some of the restaurants have these sushi treadmills where you can pick your sushi that waggle around. Though the sushi is all random, so you have to wait until your favourite sushi comes. The Japanese found a solution to that. Each table has a tablet where you can select your favourite sushi. When you finished picking your sushi, the sushi will then come on a train directly to your table. The sound the tablet makes and the sound the train makes are hilarious!

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1: Takoyaki
Just give me a second… I need to align myself. I am not sure where to start… This is the best thing since sliced bread. For those who do not know what takoyaki is, it is a small ball made out of flour batter inside with a piece of octopus, minced ginger, dried shrimp, and small chopped onions. The batter is grilled on a ball-shaped grill, which intensifies the taste. It is quite similar to the Dutch ‘poffertjes,’ but the Dutch ‘poffertjes’ are sweet and have nothing inside. Takoyaki after it is grilled, the chef cook would then put some mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and green aonori seaweed on the takoyaki.
The first time I tasted takoyaki, a friend of mine introduced it to me during Animecon in The Hague. The takoyaki was just prepared, and I tried to take a bite, but the takoyaki is hotter than two volcanoes. The inside of the takoyaki is like magma. So be very careful when you take your first bite. But when the takoyaki lands on your tongue, sweet lord have mercy on my soul, the taste is heavenly. I am addicted to the taste. Whenever I see takoyaki, I cannot resist the urge, and I have to buy it. Takoyaki can be found almost anywhere. This dish is making me broke. It is relatively cheap, though, but I keep buying it. Takoyaki costs around ¥500 for 8 takoyaki balls. It is worth it! When you have the chance to eat takoyaki, please do. You cannot miss this opportunity.

Takoyaki.jpg

I hope this blog has triggered your appetite to try some new Japanese food other than just sushi. Japanese cuisine is very diverse, and there is much to discover. Take your tongue on a voyage of incredible taste :D.

As a bonus for my readers, below, you will find all kinds of Japanese delicacy that my friends and I had stumbled upon on Nagasaki. There was a big festival going on in October. The food came in different colours and forms. Enjoy!

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Masha’Allah

References:

Otsuka, M. Approved by Nelson. R. (2016). Japan HRI Food Service Sector Report 2016. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (2016). Retrieved from: https://gain.fas.usda.gover

I had heard and read many stories about Japanese cuisine before I came to Japan. If someone I knew had visited Japan and asked them about the food, their eyes go wide open. And their smile is from ear to ear, and a tsunami of details about all the food they have tried and how incredibly delicious it was. I have to admit, I have become such a person now :p.

The food is indeed amazing, and the Japanese are magicians when it comes to food. They will make something very simple into something beautiful. There is also no lack of food whatsoever. Food is a massive industry in Japan. In 2015, the food industry in Japan was valued at $261 billion (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 2016). Rightfully so, as food is everywhere in Japan. In the darkest and weirdest alleys, you will find a place to eat. So in this blog post, I will share with you my personal top 5 Japanese food:

5: Chicken curry
I was stunned when I learned that the Japanese LOVE curry with rice. When you think of Japanese cuisine, you probably thinking about the classic/stereotypical food sushi. But the Japanese are fond of curry. The first time I went to a supermarket, I saw a section all dedicated to curry. I cannot name half of them, but from what I could see, there were all sorts of curries such as beef, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetable. The Japanese use rice as their main dish, they love to add curry to their rice. The curry is very easy to prepare. They come in an aluminum sealed package. All you need to do is either put the aluminum package in a pan with water and boil it for a few minutes or put it in a bowl and microwave it for 6 minutes. Within minutes you have a great dish. There are big curry chains in Japan fully dedicated to curry rice. One of the biggest is Curry House CoCo Ichibanya. They have all curry versions, and if you love spicy food, they can make it extremely spicy for you. Even though I am very used to spicy food, I could barely handle level 5. A friend of mine took number 8, and he was crying and sweating like a pig the entire lunch. You are warned :p.

For me, I love the (halal) chicken curry that is provided by the shop at my school campus. The chicken curry is creamy, smells fantastic, and I love the chicken because it is heavily spiced. The chicken curry is already in a small plastic bowl with rice, and I only need to microwave it. Since my stay here in Japan, I have tried several curries as in my country, curry is not a real common thing to eat. But this spicy chicken curry rice really takes the cake :).

Chicken curry

4: Okonomiyaki
The first time I tried okonomiyaki was by accident. A friend of mine thought the restaurant was making udon soup, but it turned out to be okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a batter of flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, green onion, octopus, and other vegetables. Though there is no one standard. Okonomiyaki is derived from 2 words ‘okonomi,’ which means ‘whatever you like’ and ‘yaki’ means ‘grilled.’ You sit on the table, and you can ask the waiter to bring you the okonomiyaki, and you grill it yourself. The table where you sit has a hot grill. The experience is excellent. You are your own cook, and you can make funny ‘pancakes’ of your favourite ingredients.
If this is your first time, you can ask the restaurant to make the okonomiyaki on your behalf. So what about the taste? Mamma mia… it is delicious and healthy. Your body will be overjoyed for all the vitamins it gets. Your tongue will be overjoyed as well as the balance in the taste is great. The grilled taste of the batter gives it an extra edge. The interesting part is that you can add the things you love. I always add squid, octopus, and cheese. Oishi!

Okonomiyaki.jpg

3: Ramen
If you have watched the anime show Naruto you know that Naruto could not start his day without eating ramen. Naruto would go crazy about ramen every time he walked past the shop. If you lost Naruto, you would find him at the Ichiraku Ramen shop. This show amazed me and made me curious about ramen. The first time I tried ramen was, funny enough, in Amsterdam at the Sapporo Ramen Sora. Fortunately, for me, the ramen was cooked in a miso base. For your information, the vast majority of ramen has a broth made without pork. When my friend introduced me to this ramen, I remember the first bite quite clearly. IT WAS AMAZING. The ramen was unbelievably good. The number of vegetables, the (miso) broth, and the spices had a perfect balance. No wonder Naruto would go crazy with the thought of eating Ramen.
Unfortunately, Japan is not very on the hype when it comes to providing food for vegetarians. The vast majority of food has either pork, beef, or chicken. We Muslims cannot eat pork, but we can also not eat beef and chicken that is not prepared the Islamic way. This is called ‘Halal,’ or perhaps you are more familiar with the Hebrew term ‘Kosher.’ Luckily, in Beppu, there is one restaurant that provides ramen prepared with soy milk and fish stock instead of pork. As such, Muslims can also eat ramen at Ittoryu. The ramen is amazing. In the big bowl of ramen, there is an egg, noodles, seaweed, and various vegetables. But the magical power of ramen is the broth. You do not go for the noodles, but for the robust, tasty soup. Even if you would, you cannot leave a single drop in the bowl as you want to drink all of it.
Tip: For my Muslim brothers and sisters; download the app Halal Navi. This app will show you the places that have halal food available to you in Japan :). For Android users. For IOS users.

Ramen.jpg

2: Sushi
A bit of a cliché, I know. But I cannot deny my true feelings towards this. I just love sushi. The quality of sushi you will get in Japan really differs from what I had in Europe. I can tell in the way the fish is prepared and the taste of rice. The texture is amazing. Not only that, but the experience of eating sushi in the restaurant is also fun. Some of the restaurants have these sushi treadmills where you can pick your sushi that waggle around. Though the sushi is all random, so you have to wait until your favourite sushi comes. The Japanese found a solution to that. Each table has a tablet where you can select your favourite sushi. When you finished picking your sushi, the sushi will then come on a train directly to your table. The sound the tablet makes and the sound the train makes are hilarious!

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-15 at 17.04.24 (1).jpeg

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-15 at 17.04.24 (2).jpeg

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WhatsApp Image 2018-01-15 at 17.04.24.jpeg

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-15 at 17.04.24 (4).jpeg

1: Takoyaki
Just give me a second……. I need to align myself. I am not sure where to start…. This is the best thing since sliced bread. For those who do not know what takoyaki is, it is a small ball made out of flour batter inside with a piece of octopus, minced ginger, dried shrimp, and small chopped onions. The batter is grilled on a ball-shaped grill, which intensifies the taste. It is quite similar to the Dutch ‘poffertjes,’ but the Dutch ‘poffertjes’ are sweet and have nothing inside. Takoyaki, after it is grilled, the chef cook would then put some mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and green aonori seaweed on the takoyaki.
The first time I tasted takoyaki, a friend of mine introduced it to me during Animecon in The Hague. The takoyaki was just prepared, and I tried to take a bite, but the takoyaki is hotter than two volcanoes. The inside of the takoyaki is like magma. So be very careful when you take your first bite. But when the takoyaki lands on your tongue, sweet lord have mercy on my soul, the taste is heavenly. I am addicted to the taste. Whenever I see takoyaki, I cannot resist the urge, and I have to buy it. Takoyaki can be found almost anywhere. This dish is making me broke. It is quite cheap, though, but I keep buying it. Takoyaki costs around ¥500 for 8 takoyaki balls. It is worth it! When you have the chance to eat takoyaki, please do. You cannot miss this opportunity.

Takoyaki.jpg

I hope this blog has triggered your appetite to try some new Japanese food other than just sushi. Japanese cuisine is very diverse, and there is much to discover. Take your tongue on a voyage of incredible taste :D.

As a bonus for my readers, below you will find all kinds of Japanese delicacy that my friends and I had stumbled upon on a trip to Nagasaki. There was a big festival going on in October. The food came in different colours and forms. Enjoy!

GOPR0920.JPG

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GOPR0929.JPG

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GOPR0931.JPG

GOPR0933.JPG

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Masha’Allah

References:

Otsuka, M. Approved by Nelson. R. (2016). Japan HRI Food Service Sector Report 2016. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (2016). Retrieved from: https://gain.fas.usda.gov

Japan’s Stranger Things

Japan is a beautiful and great place to live. The culture, the people, the food, the landscape, and the language give you a great Japan experience. All of it is in one word, ‘Amazing.’ But as in every culture, there is some weird stuff that boggles the mind and will leave you with a great question mark above your head. Looking for work in Japan is not as easy as one would have thought…

Such a question mark happened to me quite recently that actually has a more underlying issue covering the entire country. 

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Alright, storytime: In October, there was a post on a Facebook group (Minishare, a Craigslist for APU students in Beppu) that invited all international students to join a seminar that was organized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). This seminar was to inform foreign students about finding a job in the Kyushu island. For those who do not know, Kyushu is the southern island of Japan. I thought: “Great! This is nice, as I would love to work in Japan, mind, and look at this seminar. The Facebook post stated the following: ※The seminar will be conducted mainly in simple Japanese and there will be English interpretation in some parts.” Of course, I was worried about this as I am not that proficient in the Japanese language. Still, I had some hope regarding that some things would have some explanation in English.

I went to the seminar, guess what….. It was all in Japanese. Yes, there was a lady that would “translate” maybe 5% of the entire seminar. Still, her translation was extremely lacking, and adding the word ‘like’ 4 times in a sentence does not really convey the message. If you think I am lying, please have a look at their recent Youtube video uploaded to “attract” internationals: How you should not attract internationals

Fortunately, I had an employee of the METI who spoke English sitting next to me to translate the presentation to me. The presentation went to fast for him to be able to translate everything accurately. I was sitting in a group of 2 Egyptians and 1 Palestinian. During the break, I told the METI employee my frustrations about this whole fiasco. I would love to work in Japan, but everything is in Japanese. The employee said to me that they were targeting international students that had have been living for a long time in Japan and were able to converse in the Japanese language on a high level. In this context, it means undergraduate students that have studied for 4 years in Japan, whereas the 3 students from the Arab country and me were all Master’s students. We have a mere 2 years to study in Japan, which will definitely not be enough to get to N2 JLPT level (Starting from N5 up to N1).

I told him that Japan is not ready for the international world. The working environment is not foreign-friendly. About 60% of the APU undergraduate students, who found a job in Japan, would leave Japan in the first year as they cannot cope with the Japanese work ethos. APU is pumping undergraduate students to work in Japan, and it flaunts their results on their website about how many students found a job in Japan. However, it fails to report, explicitly, how many not only left the job but also left the country.

This whole seminar made no sense to me. Imagine yourself holding a seminar to attract international students to your country/region for work. Would you do it in your native language? Of course not! I cannot imagine the international student’s look if I would conduct an entire seminar in Dutch.

The situation is quite sad as Japan is reluctant to change anytime to internationalize. Of all countries in the world, Japan needs to internationalize due to its decline in population. As reported by the Japan Times (2017, July 5), Japan’s population has been declining for 8 years. The number of births in Japan was 981,202, and deaths were 1,309,515, a decline of 328,313 people. Japan is in dire need of a solution for its decline. This decline puts a lot of stress on the economic situation of Japan.

As described by Forbes (2017, July 10), Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 234%(!). Greece, with a deb-to-GDP ratio of 176%, is a joke compared to Japan. My (Japanese) teacher asked me: “To whom does Japan owe all this debt?” To which I answered: “To foreign countries.” Which she replied: ”No, to the Japanese citizens.” This surprised me a lot as Japan has been spending its people’s money. Clearly, Japan is in an economic ****hole.

The course name was Society and Culture. Here we discussed the current social issues of Japan regarding the economic issues and population decline. For this, we used a book Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan by Jeff Kingston. One of the chapters goes deep into the social issue, and it suggested two solutions to the economic issue. One of the solutions was to increase women in the labour force. Women are highly discriminated in Japan regarding work. It is hard for a Japanese woman to go up the promotion ladder as the Japanese society expects that a woman will eventually marry and have kids and remain at home. As such, it is hard for women to keep up their working life. The Japan Times (2016, April 8) did report that there is an increase of women in the labour force. 43% of Japanese women are working nowadays, coming from 36% three decades ago.

That is indeed great news, but remember we are talking about Japan, where long working hours are not alien. With long, I mean loooooonnnggggg (12+ working hours). Furthermore, childcare is lacking. There are long queues for day-cares as many families want to drop their child at a day-care before going to work. If that wasn’t enough, as reported by JapanInfo (2017, Jan 17), women want to earn less than ¥1 million because earning more than that, the government will tax the women heavily, and pension money will be deducted. This is because the men are the biggest breadwinners and stay working the entire day, also known as Salarymen.

I agree that increasing women in the workplace and giving them the same career opportunity is required. But will this be enough to lift the economy up? If women do work, they do not have the time to rear a child. Working long hours is the norm. I admit it is changing, but not fast enough!

In my opinion, option 2 is the best, namely open the borders for international workers. This is because many highly motivated, skilled, and talented people would love to be part of Japanese society. When talking about international workers, people immediately think of uneducated people and do dirty jobs. The criminality rate will increase. No, this is, of course, bullocks. There are educated people out there who love to work in Japan, but the environment is not ready.

Hurdles

It is a norm to prepare to find a job in your last year as an undergraduate in Japan. Meaning, at the start of your 4th year, you start looking for a job. If you are looking for a job at the end of your 4th year, you are too late. Japanese employers want the jobseekers to spend an entire year looking for a job because the process takes a whole year… There are 6 hurdles you will need to partake before you are accepted for a job. The 6 hurdles are: 1) an entry (probably your application), 2) job fair seminar, 3) resume entry sheet, 4) paper test and a web test (aptitude test and math test), 5) job interview (group interview, group discussions, personal interview. All in that order), 6) getting a job offer. All of this and maybe, just maybe, you will get the job. Just keep in mind, you do this with at least 20 companies because the job interviews are killing. This also means you are required to do lots of traveling in order to participate in the interviews.

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I told the METI employee why I would want to go through so much trouble to find a single job in Japan while I could just send my CV and application letter to a company in, for example, Germany, go for a (Skype) interview, and get accepted all within one month?! Before you even apply, you will need to have a JLPT N2 level. A JLPT N2 level tests your ability to read, listen, and write in Japanese (grammar and spelling), but it does not cover speaking. If you do not have JLPT N2, do not even think about looking for a job in Japan. When you finally achieved the JLPT N2, you are only half-way. Getting to the N2 level takes 3 to 5 years. The hurdles are amazing.

When you have read this, I probably have demotivated you to find a job in Japan. I am not saying it is impossible. If you have managed to jump over all the mentioned hurdles above, you will find a job in Japan. I want you to be realistic about your idea of finding a job in Japan. I have not given up, as I would still love to find a job in Japan and be a beautiful society. But as the Japanese say: You have to ‘Ganbatte‘ a lot and overcome Japan’s stranger things.

Masha’Allah

References:

Forbes, (2017, July 10), Japan Has Entered The Next Phase: Unlimited Money Printing

JapanInfo, (2017, January 17), Why Are Many Women in Japan Stay-At-Home Wives? Here Are 6 Reasons

The Japan Times, (2016, April 8), Still a struggle for working women

The Japan Times (2017, July 5), Japan’s population falls for eighth straight year but number of foreign residents rises

 

 

The Breakfast ‘Shock’

You wake up in the morning, all drowsy and tired. Your eyes are barely open, and you yawn. While opening your mouth to yawn, your stomach gives your brain the signal:  ”Mouth is wide open! BREAKFAST PLEASE!” You are hungry, and it is time for some breakfast. But what does one eat for breakfast in Japan?

おいしい パン は どこ? (Where is the delicious bread?)

To undestand what this blog post is about, let me start by explaining how a typical Dutch breakfast looks like. A typical Dutch breakfast consists of first of all bread. You can put anything on your bread ranging from, cheese, chocolate spread, peanut butter, meat (specifically made for bread), ”hagelslag” (chocolate sprinkles), jam, eggs,  cheese spread, to butter, with a glass of milk, tea, orange juice, or coffee. But the basis of an excellent old-fashioned Dutch breakfast is bread. But you will not just pick any bread….. No, we have a hundred versions of bread: white, brown, sesame, whole grain, corn, wheat, sunflower seed, rye bread, spelt, and the list goes on. The bread comes in different forms and sizes.

The Dutch stores are filled with bread, as this is a traditional way to start your day in Holland. On the contrary, to our fellow southern Europeans, we also lunch with bread with the same ingredients mentioned above. In countries like Italy, you lunch with a warm dish such as pasta. However, in Holland, we really like bread. I like bread.

Furthermore, as a person with a Moroccan background, Moroccans also eat a lot of bread. A typical Moroccan breakfast looks as following: homemade bread with olive oil, olives (black and/or green), jam, La Vache Qui Rit, ”Smen” (fermented butter), chocolate spread, boiled eggs, and more. And as you can see, the basis is again bread.

The Dutch and Moroccan bread have something in common: They all have salt in them. You will not consciously taste the saltiness, but certainly not sweet. Of course, sweetbread is being sold, but it is called ‘sweetbread.’  I grew up with bread, and this is the only good breakfast I know of.

The Japanese bread and I tried quite some variants of bread here, which are very sweet. You can tell. I do not mean ‘candy-sweet’, but quite apparent sweet. Your eggs or cheese on sweetbread very much conflict in your mouth. It is odd and off, and I could not enjoy my daily breakfast. I still have not encountered any ‘salty’ bread. The vast majority of the bread in the store is white and squared. The bread comes in a plastic bag of 5 to 6 slices. The slices are about 2,5 centimetres thick. The prices range from about 100¥ to 200¥.

Japan bread.jpg

Furthermore, good quality of cheese can, in my honest opinion, only be found in Europe. Before I left, I was aware I would miss the Dutch cheese. Supermarkets here in Japan only have cheddar cheese. You know those flimsy, synthetic, orange coloured, square, ”cheese”. I would call this neither cheese nor cheddar. Just a thingy with taste.

As I was thinking about this issue, I was not aware of what was happening to me just yet. Having a regular breakfast in the morning started to frustrate as I was struggling what to eat every day due to not-so-tasty bread. You see, the keyword here is ”regular”. This is my ”regular” as a Dutch/Moroccan. In Japan, one does not necessarily start his breakfast with bread.

”OMG, I AM EXPERIENCING A KURUTURU SHOKU!” Yes, a culture shock through something innocent as making a choice what to eat for breakfast. I started to have an imaginary fight in my head. Being aware of this culture shock phenomenon, one can decrease the timeline of the 4 stages of culture shock. I started to notice my stupidity and put my endless quest for good bread aside.

Culture shock stages.jpg

 

Japan offers plenty of food, but you just need to figure out where to find them. If you go tunnel vision (seeking them delicious bread), you will not see the great opportunities this beautiful country offers. In fact, Japanese breakfast, as I found, is way healthier and more delicious than the ones I had in the Netherlands. A typical Japanese breakfast can consist of white rice, miso soup, eggs, (boiled, grilled) fish, tofu soup, sausages, yoghurt, natto (fermented beans), and tsukemono (pickled vegetables). 

When you stay for an extended time in Japan, just try to be open-minded for all the food offered here and do not go on the hunt for the food you are used to like I did. You will not like every dish, but oh boy, the vast majority is delicious! I, for one, do not worry about having a cheese sandwich for breakfast anymore ;).

My breakfast menu this morning at Joyful restaurant (530¥) 😀

Japanese breakfast.jpgいただきます! (Bon Appétit!)

Masha’allah