Eight friends, sixteen days Japan trip through Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo

In September 2018, after I had spent a year and a half in Japan, seven of my Dutch friends decided to come to Japan for a road trip. It was their dream too to go to Japan and see this fantastic country from up-close. My reasons for writing about our trip is to immortalise our amazing experience. This has been the best trip we ever had, and I had this urge to write about it. More importantly, I wanted to share our experiences with you. I received many questions from my dear readers who would love to visit Japan at least once in their lifetime, but have no idea where to start. All they know is that it is expensive. This blog will inform you of the costs and provide some tips! 

This is going to be my biggest blog ever, but unfortunately, it will also be my last. I already returned to my home country, and I have picked up my life here again. I enjoyed writing about my student life, Japan life, and my trips through Japan. Much has been said in my blogs, and I am more than happy with the results. The idea of writing a blog derived from the lack of information regarding APU’s student life and Beppu city life. It felt like it was my calling to share my stories and experiences with you.

My blog was born from this idea, and I have enjoyed writing them it two years. However, all great things come to an end. If I ever go to Japan again, I might write more about my experiences, but for now, this will be my ‘Ultimo Capitolo.’

Preparations

As this was going to be an epic trip with seven of my friends, we took our planning quite seriously, and we took our time reading about almost everything. For our trip in September 2018, we started to develop a plan somewhere in November 2017.

There was one thing that we had to tackle first; the plane ticket. Getting from Europe to Japan is expensive. The cost of your ticket really depends on when you book your plane and for which period. I already experienced the extreme heat and humid weather of Japan in July and August, and I knew that this is the most terrible time to come to Japan. I advised my friends to go to Japan either April/May or September/October. The weather conditions during the Summer are horrible. In July and August, the humidity is between 90% and 100%, daily. Walking outside is like walking in a sauna with no off-switch.

May and April were not possible for me due to exam week and due to the Ramadan that took place in those two months. Therefore, our trip was planned for September. With September in mind, we looked at the plane tickets through websites like www.flights.google.com. A straight flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo was too expensive. So, therefore, my friends had a stop in between which would in turn drop the price drastically. My friends did not book the plane immediately, as there was more to plan first. The ticket was around €650 (¥70000) and €700 (75000) (roundtrip with a stop) including luggage, and etc.

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The next part took most of our time, which was finding where to go and what to do. There are hundreds of itineraries on the internet, all with ideas and tips from other people. These itineraries are meant for people who travel either alone or two to three peoples. We were eight strong. As this was our first trip through Japan, we decided that we wanted to see the big famous cities, Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Kyoto and Tokyo had to be visited. Kyoto because it was more of a traditional, samurai era-ish place, where you can see geisha and the traditional temples. And Tokyo, well Tokyo is just crazy, you have to visit it anyway. The reason we decided on Osaka because it has an international airport and it is close to Kyoto. In our opinion, the things we visited in Osaka was quite dull. It is merely a big shopping city. We are not really the shopping-type people. You have Dotonbori, which is the most famous place in Osaka, other than that, nothing really appealed to us, then again we were there for only 2 days. Our main focus were Kyoto and Tokyo). Do try their cuisine. Osaka is renowned for its delicious Takoyaki (dough with a piece of squid inside)! It is very yummy. Takoyaki is by far my favourite snack in Japan (see my other blog about food in Japan).

Luckily, our itinerary was mostly based on a website named TripAdvisor. We looked into the must-sees to not complicate things too much. Some of us had some particular niche things that they wanted to see or do, such as visiting a saké brewery or joining a Jiu-Jitsu dojo, but overall, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to see and experience. But like I said, it took a lot of time. Japan is not around the corner, and we wanted to see as many places as possible.

When we had the lists of what we wanted to see and visit, we then made a schedule. This schedule was not a rulebook, but more for keeping an oversight and to act as a guideline for ourselves.

Now we had the accommodations that needed to be booked. Since we knew what we wanted to see on which day, we could look for the places where we could stay the nights. We booked an apartment, houses, and capsules. Since Japan is the safest place in the world, we were not worried about housing. You can safely book a place through booking.com and airbnb.com. This is what we did; we roamed the web, checked the locations of the sites, space, prices, and availability. I reckon that you will have less difficulty in finding a place as we were looking for places to accommodate eight..

When we had finally decided on what we wanted to visit, one of my friends opened Google Maps (G-maps) and added all the locations on a map which he then shared with us on Google Drive (G-drive). Basically, we shared all our ideas and predicted costs on G-drive. G-maps is a great tool to use. It visualised the locations, and if we would ever get lost in Japan, we would know where our accommodations were located and the locations of the places we would visit. We also sharWe marked all the locations on G-maps prior to our arrivaled all kinds of links of webpages that provided information on all the places. Some accommodations had specifications such as codes to enter the house or time slots when we had to enter and leave, and etc. All the info was shared in the same G-drive for everyone to read. We all shared the responsibilities together.

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We marked all the locations on G-maps prior to our arrival

 

Note: Under each section, I will share with you the links of the accommodations and the costs. 

When arriving at the airport get these three things first:

Exchange money

This one speaks for itself. Your foreign currency cannot be used in JP. Make sure you have enough cash. Japan is a cash-heavy country. Don’t even think about your fancy credit cards or debit cards. Cash, cash, cash, cash, and cash. If you think you had enough cash with you, think again, get more cash. And like I said before, Japan is the safest country on the planet. Don’t worry about your pockets. Criminals are slim to none in Japan. Just be careful with other tourists, though.

IC card

When traveling in JP, get yourself an IC card. It is a card which you charge with ¥, and you can use it almost anywhere, from trains to busses, arcades to restaurants. We mostly used it for public transport. This IC card can be purchased at every train- or metro station. You will be traveling by public transport a lot, so get one of these cards and charge it. It is very convenient, and it made our trip easier.

¥2000 (€17) for a first time purchase. In reality, the card will only cost ¥500 (€4.50), and your card will be charged with ¥1500 (€12). From thereon you can charge it at every station.

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Source: These are all the IC cards. Just get 1 per person and it works literally everywhere.

Internet

The most important thing in my honest opinion. Get yourself some internet when traveling in Japan. A lot of info is provided in English, but the vast majority is simply not. It is not that difficult to get lost in Japan. Always bring a small power bank with you and internet so you can always use G-maps to find your way back (I assume you have a smartphone). You should have marked all your accommodations on G-maps by now, so no need to search.

As I was already living in Japan, having internet was not an issue. I simply had a sim card. Sim cards in JP require a one-year subscription. I did read there is a version without a subscription for tourists, but it’s a bit of a hassle to acquire it. When my friends arrived at the airport, they rented a pocket WIFI at a shop. Pocket WIFI is a small WIFI router with a sim card. You turn it on, and you will have WIFI for as long as you require. Make sure to recharge the battery every evening. This will make your life in Japan much more comfortable. Of course, at every hotel, and hostel, there is internet available. Or when you are in a pickle, go look for the nearest convenience store (it will not take long finding one), and tap on their WIFI for free. Internet was vital for our entire trip.

What we paid for the pocket WIFI: ¥7700/ €69 for 16 days.

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Source. Just rent them at the airport

Our Trip Through Japan

Osaka (12 Sep – 14 Sep)

After finally finishing our preparations, booking, and paying lots of stuff upfront (accommodations), the day came for us to meet in Osaka. Since I was already in Japan, I took the ferry from Oita to Kobe (a city right next to Osaka). My friends took the plane from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany, and from Frankfurt to Osaka. Unfortunately, my friends flew to Osaka a week after a huge typhoon had hit Osaka and Kyoto. Osaka airport was damaged, and as a result, my friends did not land in Osaka, but in Nagoya. This was quite a pity, as they had to take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Nagoya to Osaka. Shinkansen is quite pricey, but we were glad that we were reunited in Osaka.

We immediately dropped our stuff at our accommodation. The great thing about Japan is the cleanliness of their places. Everything was clean, and all the apartments are equipped with all your needs. Air conditioner, foot-massage-machine-thing (no idea why it was there, but it was very convenient), television, refrigerator, and more! We chose a strategic location, close to the metro, and close to the city centre. We love to walk, so we did not mind taking our time to go to the city centre. My friends were a bit jet lagged, but it did not stop them from roaming the city.

We walked through the Shitenoji area, and of course, we ended up at Dotonbori. Shitenoji area is not a special place per se, but we were staying in that area, we wanted to explore, and so we did. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day, I arrived at Osaka early. I looked for a Daiso. Daiso is a ¥100 (€0.90) shop, which sells lots of cheap stuff. Umbrellas were cheap, and I had them prepared for my friends.

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Where our trip started: Dotonbori, Osaka

Nara (13 Sep)

The next day we traveled to Nara. Luckily public transport is easy to get used to. Even though everything is in Japanese, in the tourist areas we visited, a lot of the signs were in English. And when in doubt, Google it.

Nara is famous for its huge temple called Tōdai-Ji. We were stunned by its size.. The temple is impressive, and the location is beautiful. Furthermore, Nara is, probably, more famous for its deer. The deer roam freely outside the temple, and they bother the tourists for snacks. There are stands where they sell snacks for the deer. If you hold the snack in your hand, you can count on ten deer who will surround you like a mob and demand you to hand over the dough :p. The deer are harmless, they do not bite, but they are very curious creatures. They will look into your bags for food. The area is beautiful, lots of forestation, and small temples. We had a great day, and we walked a lot.

Accommodation we had in Osaka for 2 nights ¥23000/ €216 = ¥3000/ €27 per person.

Kyoto (14 Sep – 17 Sep)

After spending a day in Nara and two days in Osaka (mostly Dotonbori), it was time to travel to Kyoto. Fortunately, Kyoto is only 30 minutes away from Osaka. The house we rented in Kyoto was unbelievable big and beautiful. The house was equipped with all the necessities. The landlord even provided us with jukatas, and clean towels everyday. We had no idea that it was this amazing. Below the pictures of said house:

After settling in our accommodation, we headed out for Fushimi Inari Taisha. It is a mountain that has allegedly 1000 torii gates all the way to the summit. Believe me when I say it is a lot more than 1000…. It is a beautiful mountain with lots of trees. The mountain is 233 meters high. As a bunch of fanatics who love to walk, we decided to go all the way up the mountain. The stairs are steep, the weather was very humid and hot, but we managed to do it. It took us one hour to reach the summit. We hoped that there was something special on the top, but it was just another shrine, nonetheless it was great to get to the top. The higher you get, the fewer people you will meet. It was very crowded at the foot of the mountain. The big hike is only for those who are crazy enough :).

On the same day there was a special event at the Kiyomizu-dera temple. Once a year there is a blue dragon event. The Japanese were carrying a long dragon through the streets of Kyoto. Starting from the temple, and after an hour finishing at the temple. We rushed to the temple to see this event. It was a great sight. There were priests with instruments walking behind the dragon, and priests who were chanting. This event is called Seiryū-e (青龍会). We, of course, went in to the temple; which has a magnificent view of the city. I advise you to leave no temple unvisited. Just around a corner at this temple, there is a funny superstitious place where two rocks are standing across each other. The idea is to start at one rock, walk with your eyes closed to the other rock in one straight line, if you reach the other rock without missing it, you will find true love. There is so much I would like to tell you, but I will need a book to fit it all.

Later that evening, we decided it was time to go to Gion; the place where the geisha live. Due to its worldwide fame, the book and movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ had a big effect on Gion. The book and movie romanticised the work of geisha. Due to its terrible representation, people in the West tend to think that they are exotic, oriental prostitutes, but this is far from the truth. They are merely entertainers. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and Gion is swarmed by tourists. I really hated how the streets were crowded with tourists looking for geisha. It is tough to see a geisha in Gion as they live an obscure life. The geisha travel by taxi, because on the streets they will be chased by tourists for pictures. We were lucky to see a geisha on the street, and surely we made a picture from a distance, but other tourists would make a big commotion of seeing one. The streets were lovely, very typical traditional Japanese architecture. But there is not much to discover other than hoping to bump into a geisha.

The next day we visited Kinkakuji. You cannot tell your family or friends that you have visited Kyoto without visiting the most famous place in Kyoto. The golden temple. You cannot enter the golden temple/ pavilion, but that is not the point. The temple is fully covered with golden leafs. It was built at a large pond, and it is surrounded by a typical Japanese garden. When visiting the place, you can feel the zen around you. In one word; tranquillity.

After our visit to Kinkakuji, we visited the bamboo forest. An incredible forest with giant bamboos. Pictures cannot describe how fascinating it is to walk there. Unfortunately, many of the bamboos were bent due to the typhoon that passed by a week earlier. The amazing sight of the bamboo forest kept us in awe. It felt like walking through a samurai movie scene.

It was originally not part of our plan, but monkey mountain was close to the bamboo forest. We went to monkey mountain, as the name implies, it is a large mountain where all the monkeys roam freely. Just like the deer, the monkeys are very curious too. However, these monkeys are used to people; basically, they do not pay any attention to you. Only if you have food, otherwise you do not exist. Monkey mountain had the best view over Kyoto, in my opinion.

Accommodation we had in Kyoto ¥140000/ €1231 for 3 nights = ¥17000/ €153,90 per person. 

Mt. Fuji (17 Sep – 19 Sep)

Part of the Japan experience was visiting Fuji-san. Kyoto is very far away from Mt. Fuji. We had already planned for this and did our research on the web. We really wanted to experience Japan to its fullest, so we had to travel by Shinkansen (the bullet train) at least once in our life. The bullet train travels 300 km/h (186 mp/h). The trip from Kyoto to Fujikawaguchiko (a town near the mountain) was only 3 hours (!). It travels extremely fast! And the shinkansen is exceptionally luxurious and spacious. I now understand why traveling by shinkansen is so popular. You do not need to reserve a seat. You can just go to the ticket shop and buy a ticket any time of the day.

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The shinkansen (bullet train) we took to Mishima

We wanted to climb Mt. Fuji; however, we were offseason. You can only climb Mt. Fuji till the first week of September. the authorities deem it dangerous as the mountain is starting becoming cold again. Nonetheless, it was our mission to see Mt. Fuji from up close.

When we arrived at our accommodation, we were not able to see Mt. Fuji. In fact, we had no clue which direction it was, as the weather was very cloudy. It was not until the evening of the following day that we were able to see Mt. Fuji, the clouds finally broke. There was a small window of time to see Mt. Fuji without the clouds, but luckily, we were able to take pictures. We went up a mountain by ropeway two or three time to see Fuji-san, but we had no luck. Some of my friends went at 6 AM to see Fuji-san, but it was even worse due to the mist. We were very fortunate to witness Japan’s largest mountain on the very last night.

Kyoto to Mishima by shinkansen ¥12000/ €109 per person

Mishima to Fujikawaguchiko by bus = ~ ¥2000 (€17)

Accommodation we had in Fujikawaguchiko 2 nights ¥50000/ €464 = per person ¥6500/ €58

Tokyo (19 Sep – 27 Sep)

On 19 September 2018, we finally arrived at the crazy town, Tokyo. Visiting the world famous city was no longer a dream, it had become reality. After finding our way to our capsule hotel, we decided to go to the most important place in Tokyo, namely Akihabara. Akihabara is THE Mecca for all the gamers, geeks, nerds, and anime lovers. Akihabara is a vast area with large buildings that have all the niche things for gamers and whatnot. All the buildings are emitting lights, making sounds, and like a moth, you will walk into one of these buildings without you even noticing. We practically stayed at Akihabara the entire day. There is much to discover, much to see, and much to buy. We even made friends with the donür kebab guy. I strongly advise you to visit Akihabara at least once!

In Tokyo, we spent an entire week visiting all kinds of places:

  • The Owl Cafe
  • Tsukiji Market (famous fish market, however, it has been relocated now)
  • We attended a Kabuki show at the Kabukiza Theatre
  • Shinjuku Park
  • Yoyogi Park 
  • Asakusa (free park)
  • Tokyo Sky tower (largest Japanese tower) 
  • Karaoke 
  • Robot Cafe (¥8000 (€74)f overpriced-batshit-crazy-no-idea-what-happened-robot show)
  • Shibuya crossing
  • Pachinko
  • Nikko National Park
  • Harajuku street (niche shopping street)

Each of these deserves their own blog post. On the other hand, I also love the element of surprise. If I spoil too much, it wouldn’t be fun for you :p.

Fujikawaguchiko to Tokyo by train = ~¥2000 (€17)

Staying a night in a Capsule hotel ¥20800/ €160 = ¥2600/€20 per person. 

Apartment we had in Shinjuku ¥211571/ €1654 = ¥26446/ €203 per person.

Total Costs of our Japan Trip

It is difficult to give you an exact number on our expenditures per person. Surely, the big expenditures such as plane tickets, shinkansen, accommodations, were all documented here, but of course, we spent much of our money on food, drinks, tickets for sightseeing, omiyage (souvenirs), and whatnot.

However, I asked my friends, and we think that our entire trip would have been around €2000 (¥250000) per person.

It was a fantastic experience, and we had an amazing time. I love Japan, and I will definitely revisit Japan. To all my dear loyal readers, thank you a lot for joining me on my journey. I hope you enjoyed reading my blogs, and I hope I was able to bring Japan closer to you.


Arigatou Gozaimasu, Dankjewel, Sukran, Danke Schon, Merci, Grazie, Gracias, Salamat, Terima Kasih, Gomabseubnida, Dhanyavaad, Xièxiè, Thank you very much!

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Masha’Allah

Nagasaki: Road trip part 2

In September 2017, after our successful trip to Huis ten Bosch in Sasebo, we headed out to Nagasaki. When I was a kid, we were hammered with the WWII stories at school. And of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had their own chapter in the history books. When I was thinking of Nagasaki, I couldn’t stop imagining how the city would look after the bombing. Was it still safe? Is it still flourishing? Basically, I had no idea what to expect. This trip set my image of Nagasaki straight. 

(Wait, your title says part 2? Did I miss part 1? Yes, you did :p. I wrote a blog for APU, but it was too long for their webpage. Therefore they cut my road trip story in half. In the APU’s half, I wrote about my experiences of my trip to Huis ten Bosch in Sasebo. I recommend you read that one first 😀 MY MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE IN JAPAN.)

The next morning we left Sasebo, and we went to Nagasaki. Sasebo to Nagasaki is only an hour’s drive. Nagasaki is a big city with quite some history. Our objective for our trip to Nagasaki was to learn more about the horrible history of the Second World War. We went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. We all, most likely, were taught about the atrocities that Nagasaki had suffered. However, I was still shocked to read all about the bombing and the visual representations of the event. We had spent about two hours in the museum as there was much to read about. I recommend you to go to this museum as this is a significant page of mankind’s history. Just in front of the museum, you will find Ground Zero (epicenter). The experience of standing there was quite unforgettable.

 (There was a smudge on my GoPro, I had no idea until I checked my pictures on my laptop. My apologies)

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Real life-size of the A-bomb “Fat Man.”

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I remember standing at the epicenter and thought of all the people that lost their lives in a time when mankind was at its worst. The feeling that went through me was surreal. I couldn’t imagine it as it is unfathomable. Destruction at such a scale wiped an entire city, and I was standing there where it all happened 72 years ago.

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Ground Zero of Nagasaki

After we visited the museum, it was time to cheer up. I felt quite down, as the pictures at the museum and standing at Ground Zero really had an impact on me. One of my wishes was to visit Dejima. In the Edo era, only two countries were allowed to trade with the Japanese, namely, China and the Netherlands. The Dutch were only allowed to do business in one location, which was Dejima. It was a great experience to walk through the quarters.

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Dejima is a small area with cabin-like houses, and the area is quite tiny,  located at the sea lake. Dejima had been turned into a museum. You could read about all the Dutch people who traveled to Japan and the goods they had brought from Indonesia and Europe in these houses. Japan and the Netherlands have been doing trade with each other for over 400 years. You could feel the pride in Dejima, or maybe it was just me feeling proud of my country. Most likely, the latter :p.

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Entrance of Dejima
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Inside one of the houses

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A miniature Dejima
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Miniature Dejima different angle.
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One of the streets of Dejima
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No idea why Nijntje (Miffy) was at Dejima but okay :p

Coincidentally, there was a festival in Nagasaki. We were unaware that this festival was held at that time. It is called the Kunchi festival. As we were walking through the city center, Japanese men were carrying a ship with the Portuguese flag, and they would run about through the streets passing the shops whilst chanting. I believe they were bringing blessings to the shop owners. Around the city center, there were many stands with lots of food and snacks. The Matsuri (festival) was ten times bigger than the one we had in Beppu. The stands were along the dock by the sea. It was a fantastic sight. We just had finished Dejima, and we decided to go for lunch, and we just walked into a big event without knowing.

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The Japanese carrying a huge boat with the Portuguese flag whilst chanting passing by the stores.

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There was lots of music. The streets were crowded with people. The Japanese were wearing their traditional clothes (yukatas and kimonos). The weather was great, and lots of food and drinks. We were delighted to experience such a great event!

Later that evening, we roamed around the city, and in the end, we went on top of Mt. Inasa by ropeway. Here we had a Nagasaki night view. The entire city was emitting light, and it was very bright. It was a great way to end our Nagasaki trip. If you are ever in Kyushu, please go to Nagasaki. You will not regret it.

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I guess this IS my street.
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Peace and love
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A church was bright at night

EDIT 24 July 2019: A friend of mine with whom I went on this trip reminded me of another thing we had stumbled upon. When we came down the mountain after our evening city view, we just walked randomly towards an area, and we saw a huge cruise ship.

The ship was massive, and we were in awe, so we had to see it up close. When we arrived at the cruise ship, we came across two sailormen who were members of that cruise ship. They came from Italy, and we had a nice talk about their occupation and Japan. They were wondering where they could eat good Japanese food. We advised them to walk into a random alley or perhaps try to get “lost” in the streets. There are food stores in the weirdest places, but everything is safe, and the food too. After having a friendly chat with the sailormen, we headed back to our guesthouse in Sasebo.

My friends and I remember the most is the vibe the streets had in Nagasaki, especially at night. It was very friendly and cheerful. People had a great time, and the streets were full of people. Nagasaki is a safe city, and do not worry about any radiation issues. Nagasaki is a beautiful city, and I would love to visit it more often.

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I hope you enjoyed reading both my blogs about my trip to Sasebo and Nagasaki. Japan is a beautiful country, the people are very kind, and there is much to discover. My intention with these two blogs was to bring Japan closer to you and convey a message on how remarkable it is to travel through Japan. My next blog will be about my trip through Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. The coming blog will be more about tips and tricks, budget, etc. I received lots of questions on what to expect when traveling through Japan, and I will dedicate this blog to that.

As always, thank you for reading!

 

Masha’Allah

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. 

Image result for overwork japan
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.