Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

The Life of a Japanese Salary-man

September 30, 2010
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As the light turns green it yields way to a vast army of drones in black suits, neckties, and black leather shoes. They walk carrying black suitcases, while wiping away with neatly folded handkerchiefs the unstoppable sweat that drips from their emotionless faces. The majority of them were most likely heavily drinking the previous evening up until the final train home, just to wake up several hours later with their gear set in automatic for the same daily routine. My amused smile vanishes as I am forced back into reality when I look down to see the same black leather shoes, black suit and a small sweat stain gathering on my buttoned shirt. My head pounding, wondering “How do they do this,” I squeeze myself into the Tokyo Metro train along with the horde of Japanese “Salary-men.”

Salary-men is a term used for people in Japan who hold salary-based white-collar jobs. This title is reserved usually for men, and women in similar positions go by “career woman” or, if they hold pink-collar jobs, “OL” – Office Lady. Salary-men can be categorized into three groups – Junior, Mid-Management, and Senior – yet they all share the same stressful and brave lifestyle. A Salary-man’s job is not a 9 to 5 job. A Salary-man’s job is a Salary-man’s life, and he is on call 365 days a year. He works hard and strives relentlessly towards promotions and bonuses. Albeit better working conditions in modern companies, Salary-men traditionally work for about thirteen hours a day with a quick half an hour lunch break. In the good old days, there weren’t any cigarette breaks either, as smoking was allowed in the office. Traditionally, Japanese Salary-men are committed to one company in hopes of reaching a senior level someday, but nowadays they tend to move horizontally (or diagonally if lucky) in the corporate ladder. The higher they go, the more their responsibilities grow, along with their wardrobe expenses.

But surely the Salary-man gets to go home and relax after a long day at work? The office and the company is not just a day-job; as I mentioned, it’s the Salary-man’s life. After working hours, his corporate life simply becomes his social life, as co-workers (including bosses) go out frequently for food and drinks (mainly drinks) – whether on special occasions or simply to unwind. The partying could go up to the last train home, and even beyond. Though when morning comes, it’s a fresh set of clothes and a straight face. It’s no surprise that one research even shows that most of the marriages in Japan are between office co-workers.

Japanese Food: Yakisoba

September 17, 2010
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Looking for something uniquely Japanese to eat and want it fast? Yakisoba is the answer. It’s a traditional Japanese dish that is very easy to prepare. Yakisoba is basically pan fried noodles. It is a commoner’s food, not very fancy, and it’s usually prepared as a snack or as picnic food. The noodles used in this dish are not regular noodles, but buck wheat noodles. These are thicker and darker than the Chinese Chow-Mien noodles, and are much healthier. Careful though, because most of the buck wheat noodles sold in stores are not made from 100% buck wheat, but rather mixed with regular wheat.

So the ingredients that you will need to cook this mouthwatering treat are: Thinly cut cabbage, pickled ginger, dried green seaweed, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and finely chopped pork or squid. Add oil into a frying pan and toss in the finely chopped meat and cabbage. When they are cooked take them out of the pan. Next, put in the noodles to fry. Meanwhile, mix together the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup with a spoon in a small bowl. Once the noodles are fried for a few minutes, add the sauce mix and with it the previously fried cabbage and meat. Stir everything up, remove onto a plate and garnish with some pickled ginger and dried green seaweed. Voila!

Yakisoba tastes best when served hot. To make the dish more interesting you can use different sauces like chili, soy sauce, and even sweeten it with some honey or sugar. Instead of pork/squid you are free to experiment with chicken, tofu or shrimp. Toss in some more vegetables like onion, cabbage, snow peas, capsicum, carrots or anything else you can think of for that matter. As with any other food in Japan, this can be bought already prepared in supermarkets and convenience stores, or in an instant cooking form.

Survey: What is the ONE thing that scares you the most about traveling to Japan?

September 7, 2010

Think about it for a minute and choose the one thing (only one!) that intimidates you the MOST when thinking about going to Japan.

Post your answer as a comment right now!

When the Spirits of the Dead Come to Visit

September 2, 2010
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“Obon” is a very important Japanese festival and forms a vital part of Japan’s tradition and culture. Japanese Mythology holds that during this time the ancestral spirits come back to visit and re-unite with their families. During Obon people pray to bring peace to the spirits of dead members of their families. Many who live away from their hometowns return to their families to celebrate this festival.

Since the Japanese used to follow the lunar calendar and changed to the Gregorian calendar during the Meiji era, Obon today is celebrated at different times throughout Japan: On the fifteenth day of the 7th month according to the lunar calendar, July 15th according to the solar calendar, and August 15th, also according to the solar calendar, which is the most widespread date. In the Tokyo area celebrations start on July 15th and the festive season extends all the way to August 15th.

There is a custom of cleaning the houses and presenting the spirits of the dead with various fruits and vegetables. “Chochin” lamps are lit and flowers are arranged at the “Butsudan,” personal Buddhist cabinet shrines found in many Japanese homes. The first day of the festival is generally celebrated by lighting these lamps inside the houses and then visiting the ancestors’ graves to invite them home. On the last day of Obon the spirits are “brought back” to their graves along with the family crest.

For travelers in Japan, the most entertaining part of these festivities are the various types of folk dance performed. The styles vary from region to region but “Taiko” drums keep up the rhythm. Since the larger cities like Tokyo are relatively empty from those who visit their hometowns during Obon, it’s best to travel around and stop by shrines and parks in different regions where the Japanese gather in their traditional “Yukata” dress and dance in a circle around the “Yagura” stages. Besides, July-August in Tokyo is almost unbearably hot and humid.

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    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" -

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