Typhoon season

Typhoons are a part of life in Japan. The typhoon season in Japan runs from May through October, with peaks in August and September. Since weather in Belgium is usually pretty mild, the occasional summer thunder-storm excepted, I was quite worried at the prospect of facing tropical cyclones during my stay in Japan. My concerns were not lifted by ominous typhoon warning e-mails sent out by the expat support agency that was hired to watch over all Toyota expats. The e-mails advised everyone to stay inside, keep away from the windows and have enough supplies to last 1-2 days in case you couldn’t get out of the house and the electricity failed. Part of the advice literally read:

If you don’t have water and other supplies, now might be a good time to go out to your local convenience store. There is no need to go overboard, as this situation is only likely to continue for another 1-2 days at the most, but you may wish to get enough to tide you over. In case of electricity failure, having some candles and torches / batteries would be advisable.

I have included the full warning e-mail below.

Being the good little gaijin that I am, I dutifully followed this advice, particularly the part about ‘now might be a good time to go out to your local convenience store’. So I wrestled through strong winds and pouring rain, holding on to my umbrella for dear life, to get enough supplies to last me through the upcoming natural disaster.

This video gives you an idea of the weather conditions during my shopping run:

Having arrived home with my supplies, I huddled up inside the house to wait out the terrible storm that was surely about to hit soon. But instead of gaining in strength, the storm seemed to die down! I turned out I went shopping during the height of the typhoon! It seems that I severely overestimated the strength of the typhoon.

Nevertheless, my neighbour also seemed a bit worried the typhoon, because this is what she did to protect the plant at her front door:

plant protection typhoon

This plant was carefully wrapped to protect it from the strong storm winds. This still didn’t prevent it from falling over, which it did, but the plant nevertheless made it through the storm in one piece.

Despite my own personal experience with typhoons (i.e. them being pretty mild), typhoons can be quite dangerous. Especially in the Southern parts of Japan, people die every year because of typhoons. The year I was in Japan, parts of Nagoya and Okazaki were flooded for a few hours because of the rain front preceding the typhoon. Even just two weeks ago there was a large typhoon associated flood in the Kanto region that killed several people.

Considering the big picture, I am still unsure on how to react to typhoons. Go about my business as usual and ignore the whole thing? It seems I would have been better off having done so instead of having gone shopping for emergency supplies. Salary men also seem to ignore typhoons completely. There is no question of staying inside as advised. They go to work or die trying. But on the other hand there are these disastrous stories in the media. I also heard that sometimes schools close when a typhoon approaches. So what is the best way to deal with an approaching typhoon? What is your experience with typhoons? What is the advice you would give? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section!


Full warning e-mail from the expat support agency:

Typhoon #15, also known as Typhoon Roke, will hit Nagoya Tomorrow at approximately 15:00/3pm.  Please exercise caution. 

An evacuation warning has been issued to all areas of Nagoya City, and in certain parts of Nagoya such as Moriyama, actual evacuations have been ordered. While the rain has settled in the past few hours, there is a good chance that heavy rain fall will occur overnight and again tomorrow morning, through until when the Typhoon is scheduled to pass through this area at 15:00 tomorrow.

We recommend the following:


  • If possible, stay at home and keep advised of the situation by watching NHK. While not always in English, important notices are given in English on NHK.
  • Stay clear of rivers / streams and large drains. There is potential for any of them to overflow without warning.
  • Avoid using a vehicle, especially in the dark, as it is difficult to see flooded areas and it is often too late once you enter them. Kindly note that your insurance is, for the most part, unlikely to cover the loss of your vehicle due to flooding.
  • If your parking spot is in a low-lying area, move your car to a local supermarket or other such car parks that are on higher land. This would be advisable especially if there is already 5 – 10 cm of water that you need to wade through around your vehicle.
  • If you don’t have water and other supplies, now might be a good time to go out to your local convenience store. There is no need to go overboard, as this situation is only likely to continue for another 1-2 days at the most, but you may wish to get enough to tide you over. In case of electricity failure, having some candles and torches / batteries would be advisable.

WITH REGARD TO THE TYPHOON (scheduled arrival tomorrow at 15:00)

  • Stay inside! Keep advised of the situation by watching NHK. While not always in English, important notices are given in English on NHK (Channels 1 and 3).
  • Secure or move inside outdoor items such as toys, grills, bicycles, furniture, plants and anything moveable on the balcony. Move potted plants and other heavy objects away from windows inside as well.
  • If you have shutters on your windows and doors, pull them shut. Shutters can prevent your windows from being broken by flying items.
  • Set your freezer to the coldest temperature setting to minimize spoilage if the power is cut off
  • Watch for leaks around windows and doors. If the wind is strong enough, water may be blown into your home even if the windows are closed. Have handy towels, rags and mops
  • If the storm becomes severe, move into a hallway or area where there is the least exposure to external glass windows.
  • Draw curtains across the windows to prevent against flying glass should windows crack.
  • A window on the side of the house away from the approaching storm should be opened a few inches. This will compensate for the differences of indoor and outdoor air pressure.
  • Remember that typhoons have “eyes”, areas in their center where the weather appears calm. If the eye passes over your area, it may appear that the storm has finished, with winds then picking up again as the remainder of the storm arrives
  • After the typhoon is gone, check for broken glass, fallen trees and downed power lines which may present safety hazards near children’s school bus stops, outdoor trash areas, around your car, etc.

My viral video: gift wrapping in Japan

Last year around Christmas time, something very exciting happened: one of the videos on The Japans went viral. The video I am talking about is ‘gift wrapping in Japan’.

It was a big surprise when the video went viral. The article on my blog ‘Japanese gift wrapping‘ had already been published since October 2013 so I was by no means expecting anything to happen with it anymore. If anything, the video I might expect to go viral was ‘moving fish head on a sashimi plate’. But the internet is an unpredictable thing and while ‘moving fish head’ currently has a mere 6000 views, ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ went viral.

It all started when ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ was picked up by Digg around the holidays. They posted the video on their homepage and the link generated lots of traffic to my YouTube channel. In two days’ time, the video got over a million views. Currently the views have stabilized at about 3 million views.

viral video gift wrapping in japan

A link on Digg. Hurray!

viral video gift wrapping in japan

3 million views, I can hardly believe it!

It was a super exciting time. I never expected something like this to happen when I started this blog. It was really validating to reach such a wide audience and to see my content alive on the internet on such a large scale.

But we all know that the viral phenomenon is short-lived and both the excitement and the large visitor numbers have died down since late January. Today, however, I felt a new rush of excitement when I saw ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ on 9GAG. Although there is no mention of The Japans and therefore no traffic to my blog, it is still really exciting to see my content pop up unexpectedly on the internet.

I reminds me of how much I love blogging and how great it is to connect with people from all over the world through the internet. I think this is the perfect time to send out a big thank you to all my readers. No blog without an audience. Thank you!

video gift wrapping in japan on 9gag

Here it is, in the 9GAG feed

Docile Japanese cats

Are Japanese cats more docile than other cats? Before having lived in Japan, I would have thought this to be a ridiculous question. Surely cats are the same everywhere? Cats are not subject to cultural differences, are they? But living in Japan, surprises are never far off. I have seen Japanese cats tolerate things from their owners that most Belgian cats would never stand for. There was that one time when I saw someone walking a cat on a leash in Okinawa. And then there was the time when I was walking through crowded Asuke village in Toyota City at the start of autumn leaves season and saw a guy having a walk while holding his cat. Can you imagine visiting a festival and bringing your cat along? I am not sure how the cat felt about it, but in any case it wasn’t trying to escape, which is saying something.

docile Japanese cats

Never mind me, just having a walk with my cat during a crowded festival

docile Japanese cats

The cat looks slightly dubious but remains calm nonetheless

docile Japanese cats

If you ask nicely, most people in Japan are more than willing to pose for a picture. Too bad my Japanese wasn’t good enough to ask him why he was carrying this cat around.

I am not sure why these Japanese cats are so docile. Are these just exceptions and are most Japanese cats in fact as ferocious as Belgian ones? Or were these particular cats treated like that from when they were kittens and have grown used to it? Or, the far more interesting possibility, are these cats somehow influenced by the calm personal energy that, in my opinion and compared to Belgium, is typical for Japanese culture? I would love to hear other people’s thoughts in the comments section!

A map that doesn’t point north

Found in Toyota City near the train station: a map where the north is at the bottom of the map. I think it was my first time ever to see a map where north wasn’t at the top of the map. It was very confusing trying to orient myself with this map, since I was used to seeing maps of Toyota City oriented the usual way (i.e. north facing up).

Is this random map orientation a common Japanese thing, or was this map just a one time thing? I wonder who made it and why they decided on this orientation. Any thoughts, anyone?

a map that doesn't point north

A map of Toyota City that doesn’t point north, at the train station

I’ve just had an epiphany, shortly after writing this post: what if the map orientation is chosen to correspond with the direction you are facing when you are standing in front of this map? This would also explain why maps outside stations seem to be oriented in different directions in a seemingly random fashion, as someone mentioned in the comments section.

Maybe some person in charge of maps thought it would be more convenient if the person using the map wouldn’t have to perform a mental rotation of the map in order to see where they needed to go. It is certainly possible. The Japanese are all about convenience.

So here’s another question: is this actually more convenient or less convenient than having maps always oriented with the north above?

On terraces in Japan, or the lack thereof

The weather in Belgium is beautiful at the moment. The sun is shining and the temperature is finally going over 20°C. Having long, dark winters, Belgians tend to go a little crazy when the weather becomes nice like this. One of the symptoms is the mass migration to pub terraces everywhere, to sit in the sun and enjoy a beer with friends. We even have an expression for it: ‘een terrasje doen’, which literally means ‘to do a little terrace’.


Belgian summer habits: sitting outside in the sun, enjoying a beer with friends. A side-effect of this is lots of people with bright red sunburn after exposing their delicate winter skin to the direct sunlight for several hours.

Despite my love for Japan and my efforts to adjust to Japanese culture as much as possible during my stay, my Belgian background stirred itself from time to time. So come March or April of my year in Japan, when the weather in Nagoya started getting really nice after a relatively cold winter, I started to get serious ‘terrace withdrawal’. It was so hard to find a pub terrace in Japan! The Japanese seem to have no inclination whatsoever to sit in the sun with friends to enjoy a drink. In fact, rather the opposite is the case: they try to avoid the sun as much as possible, to protect their skin from UV damage. Another contributing factor may be the hot humid summers in Japan. From the middle of June to roughly the middle of september, outside temperatures can be unbearable and air-conditioned spaces are preferred. But still, spring and autumn are very nice in Japan and would lend themselves perfectly to sitting outside. Might the lack of terraces also be related to the Japanese notion that it isn’t polite to eat or drink when you are walking around? And therefore also not polite when sitting outside? Or is this notion dated and doesn’t apply to Japanese culture anymore? I’m sorry to say I am not very well informed about this point.

I found the lack of outside sitting space in Japan so noticeable, that I took pictures whenever I did find a terrace. You will notice below that I have exactly two pictures. Apart from one terrace in front of a big building in Nagoya, where nobody was sitting, Starbucks seemed to be the only place that offered outside seating. But it looked far from inviting. The cozy Belgian terraces were one of the few things that I really missed from Belgium.

Japanese terrace in Nagoya

A Japanese terrace in Nagoya, that actually looks quite inviting, apart from the fact that nobody is sitting there! Might it be connected to the Tully’s Coffee in the background? I’m sorry to say I did not investigate further due to time constraints at the time.

starbucks terrace in Toyota City, Japan

The Starbucks in Toyota City, located on the walkway between the two train stations in the city. It was one of the few times that I saw the possibility for outside seating in Japan.

starbucks terrace in Toyota City, Japan

Another view of the Starbucks terrace in Toyota City. It doesn’t look very inviting, does it?

I wonder, do other countries also have this terrace culture, or is it specific to Belgium? How did you experience these things in Japan? Please share your stories in the comments!


The abundance of automated defibrillators in Japan

The first time I saw an Automated External Defibrillator, AED for short, was in Japan. An AED is a machine designed to help people who are suffering from a heart attack. While waiting for an ambulance, bystanders can fetch the machine, connect the electrodes to the patient and the machine will automatically determine if it is necessary to administer an electric shock. It is important to note though, that CPR (resuscitation) remains vital. AEDs are designed to be used together with CPR.

philips heartstart AED

The Philips Heartstart AED

philips heartstart AED placement of electrodes

Electrodes are placed on the patient and the machine determines if an electric shock should be administered

While we have AEDs in Belgium as well, they seem to be few and well hidden. In Japan on the other hand, AEDs are everywhere. And there are clear signs indicating where the AEDs are. Have a look at this map, giving an overview of all AEDs in Atsuta Jingu park in Nagoya:

a map of all available AEDs in Atsuta jingu in Nagoya, Japan

A map of all available AEDs in Atsuta shrine in Nagoya, Japan. The hearts indicate the location of the AEDs. I count four AEDs in this park alone. Amazing!

AED in Japan

A clearly visible AED near the entrance of the toilets in a shopping centre in Japan. There is a flashlight on top of it. I wonder how it is activated. Are there buttons throughout the shopping centre that activate the flashlight and thus guide you to the AED?

One might argue that this abundance of AEDs is due to Japan’s ageing population. Belgium however also has an ageing population, yet AEDs are not omnipresent. Personally, I attribute the availability of AEDs in Japan to Japan’s concern with safety (安全 anzen). The lengths that Japanese people and authorities go through to ensure safety in all possible situation is impressive. Japan is covered with signs warning you about all possible dangers. ‘Anzen’ (safety) is a word that I quickly learned while living in Japan!

What do you think about AEDs in Japan? Do you also find there are so many of them? Why do you think that is?

The next best thing to IKEA

IKEA, the famous furniture retailer, is not quite as ubiquitous in Japan as it is in Western Europe. Being an avid IKEA fan, I went through some withdrawal when I was living in Japan. Living in the Nagoya area, the nearest IKEAs were in Tokyo and Osaka. That is very far away to just buy a set of bookshelves.

My IKEA withdrawal became very apparent when, early on in my stay, I found an IKEA catalogue on sale in a local convenience store. I was completely over the moon.

japanese ikea catalogue

Japanese IKEA catalogue in a convenience store

But of course finding the catalogue that didn’t solve the problem of having no IKEA near where I lived. I was therefore forced to look for alternatives. Fortunately I found two very good alternatives in my area. The first one is NITORI. Their furniture is clearly inspired by IKEA, but they also offer a lot of typically Japanese items like futon and Japanese cooking utensils. Although the quality of NITORI isn’t always that great, the prices are low so their price-quality ratio is actually pretty good.

nitori in toyota city

NITORI in Toyota City with a beautiful moon in the sky above

nitori showroom duvet

Duvets in a NITORI showroom

nitori showroom cabinet

Cabinet in a NITORI showroom

The other alternative to IKEA that I found in Japan is MUJI. MUJI is a great shop with furniture, things for the home and even clothing, stationary and food. I have come to love MUJI almost as much as IKEA. Who would have thought?! MUJI has a very natural style which appeals to me a lot. In fact, the word ‘muji’ means ‘plain, without pattern’ in Japanese. I find their simple style to be very ‘wabi’ (wabi means ‘the beauty to be found in simplicity, quiet refinement’) and therefore very Japanese. The quality of items at MUJI is a lot better than NITORI, and even better than IKEA, but prices are according.

muji logo

The MUJI logo, with both romaji and Japanese writing. Both writings are used in both Japanese stores and abroad.

Muji Japan furniture

MUJI furniture. All very clean and organic looking. I love it!

muji japan purse inserts

Cute and convenient purse inserts at MUJI

Muji Japan stationary and storage

MUJI stationary and storage

Now that I am back in Belgium, where the IKEAs are plentiful, I am going through MUJI withdrawal. How ironic! There used to be a MUJI in Belgium at one point, but for reasons unknown to me, it is no longer here. There are MUJIs in the UK, France and Germany, but again, that is a long way to go just to visit a shop. I do hope MUJI opens a store in Belgium again in the near future!