3 Things I Learned From Being Stuck Out Of Japan For 5 Months During a Pandemic

On March 12th I left Japan on a 3 week trip with my roommate to South Africa. It was a once in a lifetime trip for me… we had talked about me joining her to visit her mother for 5 years and it was finally happening! Of course with the looming pandemic we did our research and kept an eye on the news the weeks leading up to our departure. Days before, we made an educated decision that we would be okay to go: Japan hadn’t shut their boarders for the most part and South Africa was hardly touched with only a handful of cases in Johannesburg and we were traveling just to Cape Town. We arrived on March 13th and within the first few days of being there a state of emergency was declared in South Africa, but things didn’t really shut down. Life was normal. A bit more time passes and about 5 days before we were supposed to leave, Emirates cancels all flights for the near future, leaving us no way to get back to Japan. On top of this, South Africa stated they were going into a heavy lockdown starting midnight March 26th… the day we were originally supposed to leave. Everything happened so quickly and my family and I made the swift and emotional decision to pack me up get me out on one of the last flights out of South Africa to the US through Europe on March 26th. I arrived to my parents home on Orlando Florida, my childhood home, thinking I would ride out the 2 week self quarantine and be on my way back to Japan shortly after… but Japan decided to shut their boarders with a good majority of the countries of the world on April 3rd, including foreign residents of Japan. I was stuck indefinitely at my parents house at almost 30 years old…. and it ended up being just over 5 months until I returned to Japan on August 15th. Throughout this time, I was able to spend time with my family I wouldn’t have otherwise and also reflect on my life in Japan…. and here are 3 things that I learned while I was stuck outside of Japan during that time.

Building Adult Relationships with Parents is Hard but Fulfilling

My parents are both 61 years old. Before I was stuck at their place for 5 months, high school was the first time I was home for that long… about 12 years ago. I felt so lucky to have been able to spend that invaluable time with them. Since I was abroad and at college and had only see them 1-2 times a year for about 8 years…. I barley saw them and we had some conflicts over the years because of it. I couldn’t come home for various reasons, including work, and it was hard for them to understand my lifestyle here and how work culture was, especially in my first 4 years of working and gaining experience. I also wasn’t very eloquent in explaining to them how difficult it was for me to acclimate to living in Japan. I bounced around to a bunch of jobs which lead me to start from 10 days off with 6 months with no leave allowed which is normal for a company here when you start with them… which is what lead to the conflicts. It started to get better when I came back to the US more for work the past 2 years but my time at home was a turning point in learning about each other. I learned about them and they learned about me as an adult and I was able to explain things that I couldn’t before. This was a space for me to build that adult relationship with them I had wanted to for a while now and hadn’t had the opportunity. Now I have that relationship and I do not regret having my life over here now and they fully support me and understand my life.

I love teaching about Japan and I love my online community

I love Japan. No questions asked, I love my life here so much and it only solidified it more when I was away for so long. I also had so much support and love from people who didn’t even know me personally who started following my journey… I was really touched by that. This small online community I’ve made and joined kept me sane this entire time. I realized I want to to dive into my more creative side and teach people what I have learned about Japan over the past 8 years of living here. Everyone who lives here has a unique story to share and my goal is to share mine in the hopes that it will help inspire someone to live abroad someday. I also love interacting with people online and helping them how I can… I want to be the person that I wish I had to go to for information back in 2012 when I moved here and didn’t know what I was doing. If I can help just a handful of people it would make me so happy.

I am strong and can get through anything

I already knew I was pretty strong because I upped and moved here to Japan all on my own at 22 years old and went through some pretty hard times working and building a life here. BUT nothing prepared me for loosing a good chunk of that for 5 months. I had been slowing building up my mental health for about a year when this happened and since I was prepared this ended up being like a final exam for me. I was thrown into uncertainty… a kind of limbo if you would. My personal life was put on pause for that time while work and everything around me continued to move and nothing was permanent for me… I couldn’t set down roots but I also knew this was going to come to an end abruptly at some point. I can only describe it as “limbo”. Now that I am out and on the other side, I’m finding my new normal and I look back on those 5 months as some of the toughest I have gone through… even compared to really bad jobs I’ve had in the past and I got through as smoothly as one could in that situation… more smooth than I ever though I could have. This made me realize… if I can get through all of this then I can get through anything. I’m more resilient and open than I ever have been before. Most importantly, things have changed and shifted in my life positively because of this and now I have more time for things I enjoy. I’m now starting my 30’s and can’t be any prouder of what I have accomplished in my 20’s and during those 5 months.

Working in a Japanese Company: Part 9 – 5 Differences Between Working in the USA and Japan

For this next part of my working in a Japanese company series, I wanted to talk about differences between working in the US and Japan. Having experience working in both Japan and the US, it’s fascinating to see what is normal and not normal in both business cultures.

Transportation to Work is Paid For By the Company

In the US companies don’t pay for transportation to work as a benefit normally, but in Japan they do! I get my commuter pass for the train and a company car to get to work everyday, which is a HUGE savior because I work far out of the city and that would cut into my monthly expenses. It’s normal even for contract employees to have transportation paid for to go to and from work. Pretty sweet, right? I also don’t have to worry about car insurance or paying for gas or dealing with the maintenance of a car!

Taxes are Filed by Your Company

In the US you have to file your own taxes every year but in Japan, taxes are typically filed for you by your company, especially if you are a “regular employee”, or「正社員」”Sei sha-in” in the company and sometimes when you are a contract employee, 「契約社員」”Keiyaku sha-in”. At the end of the year the company will give you tax forms, also known as 「年末調整」”nenmatsu chousei”, or end of the year adjustment. If you are single and don’t have any insurance or don’t own any property or investments just fill out a single form with just your personal information and your done! The company will then submit it to the company accountant and if there is a refund as an adjustment it will be paid to you in your salary with it showing up on your paystub in a section called the same 「年末調整」”nenmatsu chousei”. Now, if you have other streams of income besides your job at the company things can get a little bit complicated and you may have to file again separately for that stream of income. ALWAYS tell your employer before joining the company if you have other job commitments. Some companies in Japan aren’t okay with you working another job on the side for tax reasons but also because they don’t want your focus to be divided.

Salary is Paid Monthly and at the end of the NEXT month

In the US your salary is normally paid bi-weekly starting immediately but in Japan salary is typically paid by month the NEXT month at the end of the month, typically on the 25th or the business day before the 25th. So, if you join the company on June 1st, you won’t get your first salary until July 25th. An advantage is that if you leave one job and start another job immediately after, you will still be getting paid for the last job when you start your new one…. but when you first start working you won’t get a salary for 1 month and you should keep this in mind for expenses and budgeting. Out of the 4 companies that I’ve worked for, only 1 company paid the next month, but I’ve heard that it’s normal in other companies. Simply ask your employer before starting what their pay cycle is! My company’s cycle now is actually the 15th of the month until the 15th of the next month, meaning when I joined the company I got paid a half month’s salary in the same month I started because I started on the 1st.

Bonuses are included in your contract and yearly salary

In the US bonuses are not typically stated in your contract, except maybe a signing bonus, but are given out if business is good. In Japan, bonuses are included in your contract and are typically paid 2 times a year, summer and winter. What I mean by this is if you have a yearly salary of 3 million yen a year (approx. $30,000 USD) it will be broken up into a monthly salary plus bonuses all adding up to to the 3 million yen. A bonus is stated as “x times your monthly salary”, (for example “2.5 times your monthly salary”) and changes depending on your company. That amount is divided by the 2 bonus periods in the year unevenly, with one usually being bigger. The company can also tack on more to that amount if they are doing well, but a “bonus” in Japan is actually the company holding back your yearly salary to certain points in the year instead of dividing it up in the regular monthly payments. Please remember that sales commissions are not included in this bonus and that not all companies provide bonuses, but most do. 2 of the 4 companies I worked for did not pay bonuses at all.

Documents are not signed, but stamped with a “seal”

In the US official documents are signed with a signature but in Japan they are stamped with the persons seal. A seal in Japan, called an 「印鑑」 “inkan”or 「判子」 “hanko”, (both are correct) and are typically the person’s last name. Even all companies have an official seal to use for documents for banks, for registering a business, and other official documents. Outside of business, everyone uses a seal as well to sign personal contracts and signatures are not typical in Japan still, though slowly foreigners are allowed to use them more and more now. I even have 2 of them! 1 for official bank documents/ important documents and one for internal documents at the office or simple documents outside of the office.

And that’s a wrap! Let me know in the comments below what you think about these differences and tell me about if your country has any of these too.

To Part 8|Part 10 (coming soon)

Working in a Japanese Company: Part 8 – 5 More Mistakes to Avoid Working in a Japanese Company

Back by popular demand from the previous post, here are 5 more mistakes to avoid working in a Japanese company. These are a bit more

Eye Contact

Eye contact is actually considered aggressive in Japan, and not just in a business setting. You will notice that people, especially people of “lower rank” then you won’t make direct eye contact very often. Coming from the west this can be seen as the Japanese being “shy” but that’s not the case at all. It’s just impolite and aggressive to be making direct eye contact for a long time and makes them uncomfortable. When receiving criticism from a boss this is prevalent in a work setting, as it’s seen as not being cooperative to your boss. Don’t look down, but don’t stare directly into his eyes either. When I go in and see a higher up in the company to talk to them about something, I normally put my focus a bit off to the side like I am thinking and absorbing the information, write notes (like I mentioned before), and every so often turn and acknowledge him with brief eye contact. Don’t be scared though! Most of the time they understand that foreigners have different habits than them, but just be aware that direct eye contact too much can be seen as aggressive.

Not Being Aware of Seating Hierarchy

In a traditional Japanese company, seating charts and the position people sit in is VERY important. This goes for company “Nomikai” as well, elevators, cars, EVERYTHING. This is called “sekiji” 「席次」, or the “seating order” and the ranks are Kamiza” 「上座」the most important seats going down to “Shimoza” 「下座」 means the lowest ranking seat. Most of the time the most important person will sit in the back corner of the room, or at the back head of the table farthest from the door, with the rank going down from there towards the door. If the door has seats facing it, the higher ranked people will sit facing the door with the highest ranked farthest from the door. Rank changes depending on who the people are at that moment in the meeting or in the room, but normally the higher ups in the company are the Kamiza, followed by guests. Guests will trump higher-ups in the company to my knowledge if they are in the room at the same time. For more in depth information about this, check out this article I found with graphics from bunkablog. If you are confused, simply ask a co-worker! Don’t be afraid to ask as you are learning a new culture. I have been working in Japan for 5 years and I still mess up.

Giving a person a handshake when you meet or greet them

This might seem obvious, but handshaking is not normal in a Japanese company. When meeting someone for the first time, stand up if they have come into the room, face them directly state your name and give them a small bow and “yoroshikuonegaishimasu”「宜しくお願いします」, which directly translates to “please treat me well” but its more treated like a “its a pleasure” more than anything. Within the company, walk into a room and slightly bow with either “otsukaresamadesu” 「お疲れ様です」or “shitsureshimasu”「失礼します」(a greeting when entering or leaving a room or a house), but don’t go and shake someones hand. I don’t think I’ve ever shaken my boss or CEO’s hand. It’s not a taboo, but if you want to fit in more it’s better not to shake hands.

Referring to another person in your company as “-san” when talking about them without them present To someone outside the company

That was a mouth full! This is more of a Japanese lesson, but I had a hard time with this when I started speaking more business Japanese. Almost everyone knows that you put “-san” at the end of someones last name in Japan, but when referring to them without them present or on the phone, both instances to someone outside the company, “-san” is not put at the end of their name. There really isn’t any meaning behind it, its just not done in Japan and Japanese people will probably think it’s weird if you keep on saying it. Here is are two examples:

In person:
Customer: When can you get the data to us by? Can you ask Takana-san?
データはいつに納品出来ますでしょうか?田中さんと確認を頂けますか?
Me: I will speak with Tanaka to double check, but I think by Friday.
念のため田中と話しますが、金曜日ぐらいに納品出来ると思います。

Phone:
Customer: Can I please speak with Tanaka-san?
田中さんはいらしゃいますか?
Me: Oh, I am sorry Tanaka is not at his desk right now, can I get your name and number? I will have him call you back right away.
申し訳ありませんが田中は只今席を外しておりまして、名前と電話番号を頂いたらすぐに掘り返しさせて頂けます。

Serving coffee to your co-worker or boss before serving the guest

Serving guests in the office is normally the job of women in the office to serve coffee or tea to guests or for higher ups in the company for meeting, but I think it’s a good thing for everyone to know. When a guest comes into the office they trump everything. The guest should be served before your co-workers and then should be done by rank. They should already be seated by rank, so follow the rank seating chart I mentioned above and you should be set!

How do these mistakes compare to mistakes in your country? Have you made any of these mistakes before? Let me know in the comments below!

Part 7|Part 9

5 Things About Dining in Japan You Should Know Before Arriving

Dining in Japan doesn’t have to be complicated! Use these below tips to help you navigate the food scene in Japan and you will be all set to enjoy a foodie’s dream! Here are 5 things about Dining in Japan you should know before arriving.

NO TIPPING

This is a classic, but it must be said just in case…. There is NO TIPPING in Japan. This is for restaurants as well as services like hair, nails, concierge at a hotel, tour guide, etc. There is no system like in the US of a waiter’s “section”, all of the waiters will help you if you ask for something. The waiters are paid a normal wage and are not reliant on tips to subsidize income. Don’t say “keep the change” either…. they are very particular and will give it right back to you. It’s rare, but you might see a “1 yen jar” or a “Tip jar” at the register so that is your chance to put change in if you want to.

Food is not normally customizable

If you go to restaurant in Japan and ask to substitute something that you don’t like for something else you have seen on the menu, most of the time the waiter will give you a blank look and say no…unless it is already something on the menu about choice, like in a meal set that you can choose what you want. If you ask about something on the menu, the waiters normally won’t know exactly what is in it like if there is dairy etc., unless it’s a high class restaurant. They are not trying to being mean or rude, they are just not trained or set up to do things like this. Culturally, what have on the menu for that item you ordered is what you get and that’s the way it is… I believe it is actually impolite to the chef or person who prepared your food to ask for substitutions because it means you do not like their food or the way they prepared it. In Tokyo it’s becoming more common to ask about allergies, have English menus with icons that explain if there are allergens in the food and for the waiters to know about what is actually in the food, but for the rest of Japan it is still rare. Exceptions to this are fast food chains like McDonald’s or specifically foreign food chains that already have a culture of substitutions and customization to their menus.

TIP: If you have REALLY have allergies, please take the time to research how to say your allergies in Japanese and take it with you everywhere on a piece of paper or on your phone to show a restaurant and they should help you. I helped out someone a while back with a nut allergy and here is what I told them:

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor and I am not an expert, but this translation was verified by my Japanese co-workers for ONLY nut allergies. Use this at your own risk and please do your own research to make sure what I am saying is correct yourself in case something does happen.

私は重度のナッツアレルギーがあります。該当するアレルゲンは下記です。
I have a serious nut allergy, these are the types of nuts I am allergic to below:

・ピーナッツ(落花生)peanut 
・大豆(だいず)Soy bean
・小豆(あずき)Red beans
・くるみ Walnut
・アーモンド almond
・カカオ Cacao
・カシューナッツ Cashew nut
・ピスタチオ pistachio
・ペカンナッツ Pecan nuts
・ヘーゼルナッツ Hazelnut

ナッツ自体だけでなく、加工された食品でも同様にアレルギー症状を起こしてしまいます。
I am allergic to not just nuts, but also will have a reaction to nut products.


調理器具も別になっていないとアレルギー症状を引き起こすことがあります。
I need to have anything containing nuts prepared separately from my food or I will have a reaction.

私はこちらのお店で食事をすることが出来ますか?
Am I able to eat here at thus restaurant?

どの料理であれば、食事をすることができますか?
What am I able to eat at this restaurant?

アレルギー対応をしてくれるお店を知りませんか?
If I cannot eat here, can you please recommend another place that I can eat at that can accommodate my allergy?

“Doggie Bags” or taking extra food home is not a thing

The portions are not big in Japan, and people eat everything on their plates because, again, it is considered rude to the people who made your food to leave food on your plate. With this, the concept of take-out and packing leftover food up to take home with you is still rare. Restaurants offer take-out separately via services like UberEats etc, or by a specific take out order, but in general the restaurants don’t want liability if the customer gets sick off of their food they took back home. In fact, most restaurants don’t even have containers to pack away food for take out unless they offer take-out, in which they will normally advertise on the outside of the restaurant.

I have two stories about this, one in 2011 and one last year in 2019, but I will tell the most recent one. Last year my mom came to Japan and took a class of college students on a course she was teaching to Japan. I arranged a restaurant for them to eat at with a set menu but a good majority of them went back to the hotel and didn’t eat everything and there was a lot of food left over. At the end when we settled the bill, I asked the restaurant if I could take a small plate of the left over food home because I knew they did take out and had containers. I had to talk with them back and forth for about 10 minutes in order to convince them to let me do it and tell them it was only for lunch the next day at work, less than 24 hours away, and I wouldn’t be complaining to them if I got sick on it, and they reluctantly let me take some of the food back.

Moral of the story is please don’t expect to be able to take extra food out if you don’t eat it all.

Be aware of “Last Order”

At pretty much all restaurants in Japan you will see on the sign with operating hours a “L.O.” that is normally between 30 minutes to an hour before closing time. That is called “Last Order” or the last time you can place an order before the restaurant closes in order for the kitchen to start to clean up. Sometimes food and drink have different last order times. This is to ensure the restaurant closes on time and people can’t come in and order right before closing time. If you are already seated at a restaurant and last order comes up, the waiters will come around and ask if you want anything else before the kitchen closes and then will ask you to leave politely once the restaurant is actually closed. So, be aware that if online the restaurant says “closes at 10pm” on google, that will probably not reflect the last order time and to make sure you come to the restaurant an hour before before closing just in case.

Eat ALL of your food you put on your plate at an all-you can eat restaurant

Japan is famous for their “Tebehoudai” 「食べ放題」or “all you can eat” restaurants. All you can drink is called “Nomihoudai”「飲み放題」。Normally they give a set amount of time to eat anything on a specific menu… but there is a catch. At these restaurants you normally have to eat everything on your plate before you can order a new plate, same with drinks. For buffet restaurants or what Japan calls “Viking”, 「バイキング」and if you leave a lot on your plate at the end they can charge you extra for that. So before going and piling your plates high to the sky with food, make sure you can actually eat all of it…. I suggest taking small trips back and forth to the buffet or ordering a few plates at a time to make sure you can eat it all. Don’t be totally freaked out though, if there is a tiny bit of food left on the plate, they won’t say anything but in general just avoid having plates full of food at the end of your meal.

And that’s a wrap! Let me know if your country does any of these things or what you think of these dining tips in Japan.

Why I Say No to Fukubukuro, Japanese “Lucky Bags”

The end of December brings the announcement of lots of retail shop’s Fukubukuro 「福袋」, often called Lucky Bags or Happy Bags. If you are not familiar with the concept, these are bags of goodies that have a set price to them and most of the time you don’t know what you are going to get inside but the price is a LOT cheaper than you would normally pay for items at that store which is an incentive for people who like that particular store. People wake up early on January 1st or January 2nd depending on what the shops open and rush to get these discounted bags of goodies, kind of like Black Friday in the west. Nowadays though, a lot of brands let you pre-order the bags from the comfort of your home and allow you to reserve at the store to reduce the rush of shoppers at the beginning of the year.

I focus on clothes in this post, but stores like Starbucks and Lush also do these types of things as well. Each store has a different type of lucky bag; some stores only tell you how many items are in the bag, some tell you the types of items (like a sweater, dress, top, etc.), some will tell you 1 of the items (like a coat) that you can pick the color but the other items are a secret, and some stores will only tell you the equivalent of what the content would cost at normal price. And the best ones, in my opinion, are the ones that tell you most everything in the bag like a discounted set.

When I first came to Japan I was fascinated with these bags and I bought a bunch the first few years I lived here. I was all about those discounted clothes! But… as the years rolled on I began to notice I wouldn’t even use half of the clothes I got in those bags; I would pick out a few good pieces and the rest would be sitting in packaging over the years. I can’t even remember how many cheap winter coats I got and wore about 1 time before stuffing it into the back of my closet.

Why did this happen? I really did like those brands! Well, the downside to these lucky bags is this is many retailers’ way of getting rid of dead stock and things that didn’t sell through the year or even years previous. One year in particular, this was made VERY clear to me through my favorite brand Noela. In January 2016 I ordered a happy bag from there and when it arrived I opened it only to be disappointed that it was basically ALL clothes that I wouldn’t have worn. I had the epiphany I had spent about ¥11,000 yen (about $110 USD) and not 1 piece was really wearable and I could have used that money to buy just 1 piece from the same brand that I loved and would have used a lot. That was the beginning of not buying happy bags anymore (especially clothes) and I haven’t since then from what I can remember.

Now, if happy bags are in your budget and you like bargain hunting then its a great opportunity! BUT if you are more like me and like to invest in just a few good pieces than happy bags are not the thing for you. So, my recommendation before you buy happy bags is to consider if you want to gamble that money (because its essentially what it is) or make sure to pick happy bags that explain the contents more so that you are sure what you are spending your money on.

Have you bought a happy bag before? Did you get anything good in it? Let me know in the comments below!

Jpop Group “NEWS” Soccer Songs Ranked |nihonchique

Since their comeback in 2012 as 4 members, NEWS has been known for their soccer songs with 7 releases and the 8th for this year’s 2019 FIFA Club World Cup, SUPERSTAR, pending a release date. Every year since 2012 member Tegoshi Yuya is the main caster for the FIFA Club World Cup and NEWS is chosen to do the theme song since, totaling 6 songs with 2 songs for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 (ONE -for the win-) and the FIFA World Cup in 2018 (BLUE). With that introduction out of the way, I present my ranking for NEWS’s soccer songs from highest ranking to lowest.

  1. ANTHEM| FIFA Club World Cup Theme Song 2015-2016

ANTHEM was the 2015 and 2016 FIFA Club World Cup theme song and is the ultimate soccer song for me; it’s upbeat and has a powerful sound worthy of a sports song, making it insanely catchy with the “oh oh oh” chant in the chorus where during a concert EVERYONE belts it out. The changing tempo between the chorus and the verses keeps it interesting and the breakdown rap by Masuda is a perfect lead in to the bridge going back into the chorus towards the end of the song. ANTHEM was released on NEWS’s “Yonjyushi” 「四銃士」DVD single and QUARTETTO album. I was SO happy when they brought this song back during their 2017 NEVERLAND tour and it seems to be one of the more popular soccer songs amongst fans.

  1. BLUE| FIFA World Cup Theme Song 2018

BLUE was the FIFA World Cup 2018 theme song and was a “Samurai Blue” Team Japan-themed song, the first time NEWS released a soccer theme song that was specifically cheering on Japan. It begins with the Samurai Japan chant leading into a very upbeat and airy acoustic guitar sound that was perfect for summer when it came out, leading into the incredibly powerful chorus with a call and response. It also has some elements of Shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument, and flutes making it a very interesting fusion of sounds and changing tempos in the song (See a theme? I like songs that have a change of tempo throughout the song to keep me interested). Can I also draw attention for a moment to the fact they had GLOWING BLUE SHOES for their costume?? Samurai Blue represent!

Unfortunately, BLUE was kind of swept under the rug with few promotions, despite it being a theme song for the FIFA World Cup and being released as a single, because of a scandal involving 2 of the members at the time. Despite the scarce promotions, it still managed to sell 165,000 copies in the first week and made #1 on the Oricon chart.

  1. ONE -for the Win-|FIFA World Cup Theme Song 2014

ONE -for the win- was the 2014 FIFA World Cup theme song and released as its own single, together with the b-side soccer song SEVEN COLORS. Because the host was Brazil it had an upbeat Latin feel to the song and actually contains all the names of the participating countries. the music video included soccer supporters and it was the most “soccer” out of all the music videos (in my opinion) with many soccer shots. It’s ranked for me #3 because it gets stuck in my head SOO easily and I think its a cool touch that all the country names are in the song.

  1. WORLD QUEST|FIFA Club World Cup 2012 Theme Song

WORLD QUEST was their original soccer song debuting in the 2012 FIFA Soccer Club World Cup and was the opening song for their 10 year anniversary tour in 2013. This is the only one of their Club World Cup songs released as a single, all the others either being released as a B-side or on one of the albums. WORLD QUEST has quite a bit of tempo changes to keep it interesting but its actually on the more mellow of the soccer songs. There is a “remix” version that NEWS released on the ONE -for the win- single that gives a fresh take on the song 2 years after its release.

  1. SEVEN COLORS| FIFA Club World Cup Theme Song 2014

SEVEN COLORS is a REALLY upbeat song with a colorful music video released as a B-side with ONE -for the win- and made for the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup. The theme for the song was the 7 colors of the FIFA Club World Cup representing the 7 teams invited to play. SEVEN COLORS is the only b-side side soccer song that has received a music video and it was only released on a disc you could win in a special lottery when purchasing the ONE -for the win- single. Only 10,000 people got it and I was lucky enough hit for a copy! The song is upbeat and I love the bouncy feeling to it, my best memory of it being the final song of NEWS’s WHITE concert. The tempo stays quite the same throughout the song so that is why it is lower on the ranks for me and is not a song I really go back and listen to a lot because it gets repetitive and there is no part of the song I look forward to like the others before this.

  1. SPIRIT| FIFA Club World Cup 2018 Theme Song

A whimsical and light song with the theme of “freedom” and “flight”, the choreography has a lot of flowing movements to it making it great to see live. I LOVE the violin in the song and the tempo change in-between the chorus and the verses, but the rhythmic military-like beat to it is what turns me off to it at some points and it took me a while to warm up to this song, only remotely liking it when I saw it performed in concert during their EPCOTIA ENCORE concert, then the WORLDISTA tour right after that in the spring of this year. It was released on the WORLDISTA album in the “E-sports” section with BLUE. The costumes for EPCOTIA ENCORE are my favorite costumes out of all the soccer songs with the red white and blue Nike tracksuits my favorite member Masuda Takahisa designed.

  1. KINGDOM| FIFA Club World Cup 2017 Theme Song

KINGDOM was the FIFA Club World Cup theme song for 2017 and did not get a lot of promotion at all, simply being released on the EPCOTIA album in March of 2018 and is a song that really didn’t have a big impact on me. I really only listen to it when I listen through the entire EPCOTIA album. After the EPCOTIA tour, it wasn’t performed again and was archived into NEWS’s library of songs that probably won’t see another performance of.

  1. SUPERSTAR| FIFA Club World Cup 2019 Theme Song

SUPERSTAR is the newest soccer song for this year’s Club World Cup and the most mellow out of all of them. I have only seen 2 performances of it, so I don”t really have a good feel of what the song sounds like it but from what I heard from those 2 performances it will probably be ranked pretty low for the mellow-ness of it. I will say though that one of the collaborations was with a famous DJ, DJ松永(Creepy Nuts), which gave a mellow song a good beat to it. Other than that, I also don’t have much else to say about SUPERSTAR and it will probably be released on NEWS’s album STORY pending release probably sometimes in Spring 2020.

What is your ranking for NEWS soccer songs? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Ways To Survive Winter In Japan From A Native Floridian

Winter in Japan varies where you are visiting, but most of the country gets consistently to 0 degrees celsius or colder during the winter, so it gets pretty cold… at least to me. I went from not knowing anything about how to survive winter, being a native Floridian, to being thrown into the Kyoto cold when I first moved to Japan. Here are 5 tips from a native Floridian on how to survive winter in Japan.

Layering Clothing and UNIQLO Heattech

This may seem obvious for some people, but I was never taught layering or even how to “winter” properly being a native Florida and in fact, I never even owned a “proper” coat until about last year. When I say proper I mean investing in a coat that is thick and made to last years…. I always bought cheap under $100 USD coats that didn’t last very long and weren’t very warm. I now have a coat from my favorite clothing brand NOELA that is a short duffle that doesn’t button but zips up in navy with a fur hood and I am in love with it! It goes with everything and the next coat investment I want to make is a medium size single breasted coat that is a bit more classic, but that will be probably for next winter.

Layering is extremely important to survive the winter here in Japan as when you are outside you want to bundle up but with the harsh heater inside you don’t want to bake and sweat like a pig. I ALWAYS check the weather in the morning and see how cold it will get. I practically live in jeans and sweaters during the winter with the occasional skirt and dress if I feel like dressing up, but in those cases I will make sure I have a thick cardigan and wear UNIQLO Heattech.

In the west we have “long johns”, or undergarments made to keep you warm but in Japan UNIQLO has heattech technology that is similar but so much more light weight and is extremely affordable at around $12 or 1000 yen. They have all different of types, such as tank tops, short sleeve, long sleeve, boat neck, crew neck, turtle neck, everything you can imagine! They have socks and bottoms as well for those who’s legs get cold easily. Another key element for me in winter in Japan is cashmere, which once again I find cheaply at UNIQLO. Cashmere is thick and soft sweater material that keeps you super warm and is quite expensive. UNIQLO has good quality cashmere for a great price, normally 8999 yen (USD $88) and on sale it can get down to 6999 yen ($68 USD). They don’t just have sweaters, but scarfs and other accessories too. I also get cashmere infused socks for 1000 yen for 3 pairs at TUTUANA, a socks and tights store here and they are my favorite socks to wear during the winter.

Kairo Hand Warmers

Hand warmers are a LIFE SAVER and I had no idea they existed until l moved to Japan, as I don’t even think they are a thing in the US (although I didn’t live in a area that got real winter weather… Florida is either hot or HOT HOT…). I don’t like wearing gloves unless I’m outside for a long period of time, which is not on a daily basis for me. BUT my hands get extremely cold and having a hand warmer on me during the winter is a must for me. I buy a huge pack of them at the beginning of the season and normally I use a few a week so a pack of about 24 lasts me for the entire winter season. There are two types: Stick (貼る) and non-stick (貼らない). I always get the non-stick because I like to hold it in my hands, but the stick kind you can stick on your cloths or body under your clothes to keep you warm or stick them inside your shoes. I prefer to control by body temperature through layering my clothes, so I do not use this option usually.

Onsen

Onsen are hot springs in Japan and I cannot survive winter without them! There are so many local onsen around the Kansai area where I live and I like to go on a day trip out there, eat a nice meal and hop into the hot spring, especially the outside ones called Rotenburo「 露天風呂」. I love the contrast between the hot bath and the cool air; I always feel refreshed afterwards! Some places in Kansai I recommend for a day trip are Arima Onsen in Hyogo and Awajishima in Hyogo, they are both day trips and you can find day-trip plans that have food included. One last tip is that to go into these hot springs you will have to go to a hotel or ryokan. There are normally many options in the area for budget and for splurge so I recommend researching a bit before going and book ahead of time for the best trip.

Now and alternative for people who do not like to get naked is foot baths that most of these onsen have as well. Warm up by soaking your feet in the warm hot springs!

Heated Blanket and Kotatsu

Heated blankets aren’t revolutionary either, but in Japan the heater and air conditioning are not central air conditioning so it gets very drafty and cold easily. At night most people do not sleep with the heater on and opt to use a heated blanket instead. I slept with the heater on the first few winters in Japan and it was way too dry and didn’t help at all so I decided to pick up a heated blanked instead. They are easy to find on Amazon or at your local Bic camera/ Yodobashi camera and are normally decently priced at about 5000 yen, or $49 USD and I have had mine for over 5 years now and its going strong.

Another alternative is a kotatsu, basically a heated table with a blanket over it to keep the inside warm and a lot of Japanese people live in them during the winter to save on electricity. I actually prefer the heated blanket to as in my apartment we do not have a lot of space to sit under it even though we have one. If you want to try one out there are actually restaurants that you can sit under a Kotatsu and eat a nice mean, usually nabe!

Take the Underground Passages

If you are in a big city in Japan there are almost always underground passages in the main parts of the city. I live in Osaka and the entirety of Umeda is basically accessible underground, which is perfect when it is a bitter cold day. Shibuya in Tokyo is also another good example of where a lot of main attractions, like Shibuya 109, are all accessible via underground passages. They can be a bit of a maze, but if you read the maps and follow the signs carefully you can successfully navigate almost anywhere, all while staying toasty!

How do you survive winter in Japan or winter where you live? Are there any special things that you do to keep warm? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Realities of Living in Japan as a Foreigner

Living in Japan as a foreigner is such a fulfilling experience. I’ve been living here for over 7 years now and can’t imagine living anywhere else, but with the good comes the bad and there are some realities of living in Japan as a foreigner that some people might not be aware of before they move here. There are so many realities of living abroad, but the ones I wanted to talk about this time are Japan specific. So let’s take off those rose colored glasses for a few minutes and discuss 5 realities of living in Japan as a foreigner.

1. Life in Japan is NOT an Anime, Manga or J-Drama

Japan is the land of anime and manga, but it isn’t the reality of daily life here. I grew up watching anime and dramas and reading manga and it taught me a LOT about how life in Japan was, but in reality it’s a stretch of the real day-to-day life here. It’s the same as watching Friends or Disney channel movies and shows to learn about the US…. it shows only a snapshot of real life in Japan. In fact, real life is probably more boring and mundane than you think and and not so different from other countries. We all commute to school and work, go grocery shopping, see friends and family etc. After a while the novelty of the convenience stores wears off (though I still think they are convenient and use them every day!), riding on trains with people sleeping on you starts to annoy you and your foreign “charm” wears off on the people around you. So please… don’t expect to come to Japan and believe that real school life or work life is like in an anime OR that everyone reads the same manga here. If you do want something that is relatable and pretty accurate I highly recommend “Love Is Hard for Otaku (ヲタクに恋は難しい, Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii) as an AMAZING slice of life anime about adult life as an otaku though!

Speaking of liking anime and manga, there are so many options of entertainment in Japan and everyone has their own preferences here, so not everyone will share your same interest. Of course you will find people with similar interests if you look for them, but please don’t assume everyone likes what is “mainstream” outside of Japan.

2. Foreigners will always be outsiders

Now this one is probably more for the non-asian foreigners in Japan. I’ve been living in Japan for over 7 years now and am fluent in the language and yet I still get treated as a foreigner… because I AM one and look like one. I know the culture pretty well (though not an expert) and know how to navigate society here decently, but I still get talked to like I don’t understand. I still get spoken to in English a lot when people first talk to me, in which I politely respond to them in Japanese. People will automatically assume that I can’t speak Japanese just by looking at me. I will always be asked “foreigner questions” and will always be told “your Japanese is so good!” when they only heard me say 1 phrase. Yes, I know this is the Japanese people being polite, but for someone living in Japan for so long it can be disheartening when you have spent so long learning the language and the culture. I accept this and I am always polite because I know that the Japanese people don’t mean harm but it’s something to be aware of as a foreigner here.

Something that all foreigners here can Japan can relate to along the lines of this is the string of extra paperwork and procedures that you have to go through because you are a foreigner. Some phone companies won’t give you a contract for monthly payments for a phone unless you pay for the price of the phone upfront if your visa is shorter than the contract amount. You will be discriminated for renting places (though in Osaka I have never had that experience) because you are a foreigner and you have to jump through hoops to get a loan from the bank and credit cards from banks are almost impossible to get at times as a foreigner. Unless you get permanent residency you will have to deal with most of this for the entire time you live here in Japan.

Random fact: You can’t actually become Japanese unless you give up your own country’s citizenship because Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship. Also, something I learned recently that people born to non-Japanese parents (both are foreign not just 1 foreign) are not Japanese citizens. They are given a special “zainichi” visa but not citizenship.

3. Japan will NOT change to accommodate you

Japan has its own unique culture and ways of doing things and just because you are foreign doesn’t mean it will change to accommodate you, nor should you force Japan to change itself. Foreigners are still outsiders in their eyes and telling them something is wrong or they should change an aspect of their culture is not respectful. When in Rome, do at the Romans do. There are rules and regulations in place for a reason, so before raising up in arms and try to change it, take a minute to ask why it is in place and try to understand why first. Of course there will still be things that make absolutely no sense, but at least you know the reason why. If it’s too hard to do this and understand why, then Japan might not be the place for you.

4. Its hard to build deeper relationships with Japanese people (but not impossible)

Japan is a very heterogenous country… only abut 2% of the population are foreigners as of 2017. With this comes the automatic barrier and pride of being Japanese. Now, not all Japanese people are like this, but it’s very common for Japanese people to approach you to “learn English” or have you be the “token foreigner friend”, or just be plain cold to you because you are a foreigner. They will be nice and polite to you, but it will stay at surface level or “drinking buddy” level and rarely go deeper than that. There’s also the element of not knowing them for very long. I mention this because A LOT of Japanese people still have relationships with people from when they were in grade school that they still keep up with and you will not be able to compete with that, unfortunately. There is the final element Japanese people are just plain busy. Working in a Japanese company means long hours and not much time for rest, and days off can be all over the place depending on your job, which means a good majority of the time Japanese people just can’t meet up because of work obligations sometimes.

Now, it isn’t impossible to make friendships with Japanese people and though most of my close friends here in Japan are not Japanese, I do have a handful of Japanese friends that I can ask for advice or contact to hang out with. Also, when you are in a Japanese company your co-workers are decently close to you so you have a support network there most of the time too. In the end though, the reality is that the people I make the most connection with are my foreign friends because they understand what I am going through and I am most comfortable talking to them in my native language.

5. Bureaucracy and following strict procedures are the norm

There is hardly any bending the rules here and you are always filling in tons of inefficient paperwork. Foreigners may come from different countries where things are more efficient and the corporate structure is looser, but in Japan when there is a rule set the rule is going to be abided by come hell and high-water. The littlest things are checked down to the most minute detail and corrections are made over and over again until perfect. Even if you go to a restaurant it’s still rare to be able to customize and substitute something in your meal and if you ask for what is inside of it or to change it you will get a blank stare from the staff and they won’t be able do it. Banks are a nightmare with tons and tons of paperwork you have to fill out and very strict guidelines on how to fill it all out or you have to re-write it all over again. Despite being perceived as one of the most technologically advanced nations, they are still mostly living in an era of paperwork and paper money and ancient computer systems.

I say this particular point inside of realities for foreigners because this is a HUGE point for some people for leaving Japan and not staying for the long term, they can’t adapt to these procedures and some of the “ridiculous” bureaucracy and they eventually go back to their own home country. It can be quite annoying when it seems you have to jump over hurtles all the time and I don’t blame people for turning back and heading home.

All in all, I love living in Japan and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there are some downsides to living here. What are your thoughts on these? Would these be deal breakers for you to live in Japan? Let me know in the comments below!

Working in a Japanese Company: Part 7 – 5 Mistakes to Avoid Working in a Japanese Company

Adapting to a completely different work culture in another country can be a huge learning curve. I live in Japan and have been working here for almost 5 years at a regular office job as an “OL”, or an “office lady” the term for a woman working in an office here in Japan. Throughout my experience working here I have a few things I have learned to avoid doing while working in a Japanese office, so here are 5 things that you should avoid doing while working in a Japanese company.

Being Late

Being late is a HUGE faux pas in Japan, especially in the workplace. Being “fashionably late” is not a concept here (unless you are the big boss) and in fact, you should be 5-10 minutes early to anything to be prepared. This is the same for when you come into work to begin the workday; I always make sure I am about 10 minutes early to work. My first job actually required me to be to work about 20 minutes early to do radio exercises with everyone and be prepared to start work on time.

Not knowing and practicing “Ho Ren So”

“Spinach??” you might think, but this is a business concept in Japan that stands for “Houkoku, Renraku, Soudan”, which translates to “Report, Inform, and Consult”. This is the basic process on how you interact with your boss/ superior about your tasks in your job that a lot of companies in Japan swear by. Report means to report what you are doing, Inform means to inform all parties involved of the information/ decision from the boss and Consult means to get advice from your boss about your tasks if you are having trouble with something or the boss gives his input into what you are doing. Coming from a western background this concept can seem like you are being babysat by your boss and you cant make your own decisions, but it’s important to know and follow in order to interact with your boss properly in Japan. Not all companies are like this and there are different levels of this depending on how your company is set up, but this is a generally good concept to know so you can understand how these companies operate. Read this article here for more information on this concept!

Not Helping To Clean the Office

Surprise! The workers in the office clean the office, not a janitorial team. You see this often when talking about Japan with the school system, but it actually permeates into the workplace too. Of course, if you are in a huge corporation in a huge building then there might not be cleaning duties, but at a small-medium size company in its own building, you will most likely be required to do some type of cleaning in the office, especially women. More traditional companies will only make the woman rotate cleaning duties, but in more modern companies everyone helps out with the tasks such as taking the trash out, vacuuming, and tidying the break room/ kitchen area etc. So don’t try to wiggle your way out of this! Even try to be the first one to speak up about cleaning duties when you first start at the company as sometimes your Japanese co-workers might not want to bother you as a foreigner. They will really appreciate you helping out!

Not Taking Notes

In my first company in Japan I was CONSTANTLY told to take notes. Now, in school I was the type to not take that many notes and still somehow pass the classes well, so I fought tooth and nail against this but after a while I realized that the co-workers in my first company were in fact correct that I needed to take notes. I ALWAYS forget small things that my boss tells me off handedly to do and having a notebook with me at all times when I talk to him has been a life saver to remember them. On top of this, if you don’t have a notebook and a pen in a meeting it is seen as rude and you are not engaging and absorbing the information presented in the meeting.

Forgetting Proper Greetings

“Aisatsu” or greetings in Japan are essential in all-around in daily life, not just business, so if you do not say the proper greetings throughout the day it can be seen as rude to your co-workers. In the morning when you come into the office you always say “Ohayougozaimasu”, which is “Good morning”, and before you leave for the day you say “osakini shitsureshimasu”, which is a polite way of saying “Excuse me, I’m leaving before you” in combination with “Otsukaresamadesu”, 「お疲れ様です」or “Thank you for the hard work” a phrase that is used in the workplace A LOT. If there is one greeting/ phrase that you NEED to know in a Japanese company it is “Otsukaresamadesu”. It is not only used when you leave for the day but when you greet a co-worker throughout the day or on the phone. For example, when your boss or co-worker calls you on the phone you pick up with Otsukaresamadesu if you know it’s them or after you know who is calling, when you pass a co-worker in the hallway or in the breakroom you say it and when you enter into another part of your office you say it to them as well. You do NOT say it to someone outside of your company, as there is another phrase that you say to a customer or someone outside your company you interact with for work.

What did you think? Do these differ from your country and which ones do you find the strangest? Let me know in the comments below!

Go to Part 6 | Go to Part 8

NEWS – “Topgun/ Love Story” Single Review

Top Gun/ Love Story is Double A-side single released on June 12th, 2019 with a pure love ballad paired together with a passionate, upbeat song about longing after an elite, hard to get woman. On release day, it just scrapped by their 4 member comeback single Chankapana in number of copies sold, making it their best selling single as 4 members. Love Story/ Top Gun sold 121,842 copies and Chankapana sold 121,097 on the first day of sales.

The Songs

Love Story

First let me give a bit of background of this song:
Johnny’s and Associates (NEWS’s management) released a dating simulator game app in March 2018 in collaboration with Gree, a game application developer here in Japan called 「NEWSに恋して」, or “Fall in love with NEWS”. For the 1 year anniversary of the app launch in March 2019, they released a series of commercials, which featured Love Story in it, and was the first time us fans had heard it… or so we thought. NEWS fans were surprised that they actually recognized the tune. It had originally been part of the series of New Year’s concerts “EPCOTIA – encore-” that NEWS held at the beginning of the year where NEWS had the fans hum the melody at one point, recorded it, and then put that recording into the single as a surprise for the fans. When I mean surprised, we really were surprised! During NEWS concerts, to transition between different parts of the show NEWS has the fans do all kinds of things to keep us distracted, such as a quiz game, stomping and clapping to the rhythm of something related to the show theme, etc. So this time they had us do the same thing to help everyone “escape from inside a blackhole”, but to the tune of Love Story. So the fans didn’t suspect a thing!

So, Love Story is actually a love song from NEWS to their fans, but it can be interpreted as a love song in general as well. I love how its a ballad, but has a really nice beat and seriously gets stuck in my head. 12/10 would love another song like this again!

Top Gun「トップガン」

Top Guns is a fun, upbeat song with lots of brass and string sounds and old-school disco-esque guitar, making it have a 70’s sort to feel to it. The first few times I heard this song though I wasn’t impressed with it as I had only heard it as the ending song of the drama …… Even after I saw it during the WORLDISTA tour, I wasn’t a fan of it until I heard the studio version of it. I am a fan of brass sounds combined with other modern elements so as soon as I heard the sounds on the studio version I fell in love with it, and the music video just made me love it even more. My favorite part of the song has to be when Massu raps towards the end in a kind of rap-dubstep breakdown.

The Music Videos

Love Story

The music video for Love Story had 5 different versions; 1 for each member and 1 combined video. Each video was made in 1 cut (with the combined one taking cuts from the individual ones) and the theme was a “date” with them. I like cute, but this really took it to another level but it was very tasteful. It was very well shot and reminded me to Tegomassu’s video “Moshimo Kono Sekai kara ○○ ga nakunatara”. I liked Koyama’s look the the most in this video with his hair and the necklace he wore. It was still sickly sweet and I did squeal at some points, so if you are looking for something overly sweet then this the video for you!

Top Gun「トップガン」

The Top Gun music is a piece of art. I love so much about it I don’t even know where to start. The aesthetic of the boys laying in the flower and the transitions between the dance scenes and the “portrait” flower scenes are phenomenal. Massu’s costumes were really a vital part of the video with the red, black and white combined with the white background. I have to point out that only Massu would make them wear Christian Lou Boutin slightly heeled dress shoes to dance and make it work fantastically. This music video really made me fall in love with the song and has to be one of my favorite NEWS music videos to date, only second to Kaguya. I could watch this video over and over again, that’s how much I love it.

The Verdict

Overall I rank this single as one of my top NEWS singles as 4 members, right next to Ikiro and Kaguya. I like how they have 2 different sounding songs on one single, plus the surprise with Love Story and recording the fans at the concert. Because they released a double A-side single, they will probably only release 1 more single or no more singles before their new album “Story” comes out (production is in process and confirmed by the label) probably sometime in Spring 2020. I highly recommend this single to anyone getting into NEWS, as both singles show different sides of NEWS.

What did you guys think of this single? Did you like Love Story or Top Gun better? Let me know in the comments below!