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!

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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:

WITH REGARD TO THE RAIN

  • 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.

Japanese toilet roadmap

Japan is all about convenience and customer service. These principles are even applied in the most lowly aspects of life, like for example using the toilet. Of course everyone knows the high-tech Japanese toilets with all the buttons, but what I saw in a roadside rest stop between Toyota City and Ise Jingu took things to a whole other level. This place had a ‘toilet roadmap’, which gave an overview of all the available toilets. It also included information about the facilities available in each particular stall, like the presence of a baby seat or if the toilet was high-tech or a traditional toilet where you have to squat. Amazing! And so convenient! I miss things like that from Japan.

japanese toilet directions

The information screen was conveniently located at the entrance of the restroom

japanese toilet directions

The board provides detailed information about all the facilities. The occupied stalls turn red.

Heating the outdoors

Customer service is extremely important in Japan. Sometimes this leads to situations that seem a bit excessive in my eyes, like the amount of packaging they use or that time we saw a heater placed outside in the open air, to accommodate waiting customers.

open air heater in Japan

A kerosene burner placed outside in the open air to help customers waiting to have lunch stay warm

In Japan, it is very popular to eat out for lunch. Since many restaurants have only very limited seating space, it is common to have to wait for a table at a good restaurant. If the restaurant is really small, it doesn’t have an indoor waiting area and customers have to wait outside. One cold January day around noon, we were waiting to have lunch at a restaurant in Hakone. There was a waiting area next to the restaurant, i.e. outdoors. To my great surprise, the staff had placed a kerosene burner in the waiting area. Although I was very thankful for this extra heat (it was so cold!), at the same time I felt a bit guilty about taking advantage of something that somehow felt a bit wasteful. The heater was pretty much attempting to heat the entire outdoors, which is of course futile. There was no tent, no enclosure, nothing that could even barely attempt to keep a bit of the heat localised.

outside heater in Japan

Such a cold day!

After having discussed the situation with some Belgian friends, they pointed out that in Belgium sometimes we also make a bonfire outdoors or restaurants place heaters on their terrace in winter to enable people to sit outdoors. While this is true, I still felt an initial shock at seeing this heater in Japan. It is not the first time that I have felt torn between my love of Japanese customer service and my desire to not be wasteful. I would love to hear about other people’s experiences and opinions on the matter! Have you ever felt the same? How do you deal with these things? Or is it a non-issue?

Umbrella vending machine

In Japan, there is vending machine for everything, apparently. I was so surprised to see a vending machine for umbrellas! Very convenient though.

Umbrella vending machine in Japan

Umbrella vending machine in Japan

If you want to see other vending machines, I also wrote a post about a Japanese vending machine for beauty products.

Oden – wholesome winter food

Oden is a typical winter dish from Japan. It consists of several ingredients like daikon, tofu, konnyaku, eggs, etc., stewed in a light, soy-flavoured broth. One of the many wonderful things about oden is that it is so cheap. Each piece of oden costs between 75 and 100 yen (between 0,5 and 0,7 euro). It is also healthy, delicious, and it really warms you up in winter.

Oden japanese winter food

A display of oden, where you can clearly see the different ingredients. I admit it is not much to look at, but I assure you that it is delicious. At first I was a bit suspicious of oden myself but after I gave it a try, I was hooked! The daikon in the lower left corner is my favourite.

As the cold months set in, you see oden stands pop up in convenience stores all over Japan. When you want to buy some oden, you are supposed to serve yourself: just take a few pieces with the pincers provided by the store and put them in a cup. You may add some broth if you like. Then you tell or show the convenience store cashier what you took.

oden stand in Japanese convenience store

An oden stand in Japanese convenience store. In the background on the right, in the ‘hot snack’ display, you see ‘man‘, which is another kind of delicious Japanese winter food.

I discovered this self-service system only after having asked the poor employee from the convenience store around the corner from our house to serve me some oden on several occasions. Being as polite as any Japanese would be, and possibly also a little frightened of that bossy, tall foreigner, the employee dutifully served me every time. Until I saw someone else serve themselves and I realised how it actually worked. Embarrassing! But things like that are also very much part of life in Japan.

Oden illustrates two things that I love about Japan:

  • It is so easy to get healthy and cheap fast food in Japan.
  • I love how the Japanese celebrate the seasons with seasonal food. Here in Belgium, we can pretty much get any kind of food all year long. But the seasonal food in Japan really gives you something to look forward to. I also seemed to enjoy the food more because it was only available for a limited amount of time.

Funny English in Japan

When living in Japan, you are constantly seeing funny English phrases everywhere. Many misunderstandings result from literally translating Japanese into English. Both languages have a totally different structure and many formal Japanese expressions have no English equivalent. If you speak a little Japanese, some of the strange English starts to make a lot more sense. Other examples of funny Japanese English are mix-ups between the letters R and L and phrases that can only be the result of the unedited use of online translation engines. There even exists a special website dedicated to the strange English that you can see in Japan and other Asian countries, called Engrish.com. The pictures below are a small sample of my own experience.

Japanese english or engrish

They probably mean Rice and Liquor, although the R-alliteration does have a nice ring to it.

Japanese english or engrish

We saw this sign in a national park in Hokkaido, where, due to geothermal activity, the water is so hot that it poses a serious risk of burn injuries. While they still get the message across, these words are so jumbled that they most likely just input the Japanese sentence into a translation engine which translated everything word for word into English. I wonder if the Chinese and Korean on this sign are equally jumbled.

After having read this post, my friend Yasu inserted the Japanese on this sign into several translation engines. The results are hilarious!

Google: “Once in the sand, and then burn it to collapse.”
Exite: “It will be caved in and burned if it goes into sands. “
Babylon: “I sink and burn myself when I enter the sandy beach.”

But don’t get me wrong, although this kind of English puts a smile on my face, I am not ridiculing the Japanese for these little mistakes. As someone who has tried (and is still trying) to learn Japanese, I fully realize how different the two languages are and what a monumental task it is to be truly fluent in English when you are a native Japanese speaker (and vice versa). So nothing but respect for the many people in Japan who study English and do their best to speak English. Many of them are very good at it and certainly better than I will probably ever be at Japanese.

But back to the topic at hand: funny Japanese English. While I find these strange translations cute and funny, there is another really endearing way that English is used in Japan. When looking for a brand name or a slogan, the Japanese often throw a seemingly random selection of English words with a positive meaning together, giving wonderful results like ‘Freshness Burger’ as the name for a hamburger franchise and ‘Happiness Life’ as a brand of toilet paper.

freshness burger in Nagoya airport

A Freshness Burger restaurant in Nagoya airport. It was our favourite place for a quick bite to eat before a flight. We were first attracted by the funny and cheerful name but actually their burgers are quite nice.

funny english in japan toiletpaper

This Japanese toilet paper packaging made me smile. Happiness life, what more do you really need? We saw this toilet paper in a small town in Okinawa. The rest of the toilet space matched their choice of toilet paper (see below).

cheerful japanese toilet

The most cheerful and beautiful toilet space I have ever seen!

Cute Japanese roadblocks

When we were driving around Kyoto, we saw the cutest little roadblocks. They were shaped like frogs. While Belgian roadblocks are just functional and boring looking, the Japanese never pass up an opportunity to make something look cute. We were surprised and fascinated to suddenly see these funny frog-roadblocks while entering Kyoto. In Japan you never know what you’ll see next!

 

cute japanese roadblocks frogs

Imagine just driving down the road and suddenly seeing these guys staring at you.

cute japanese roadblocks frogs

A close-up of the frog-roadblocks

Japan is all about ‘cute’, or ‘kawaii’ as they call it. Grown adults, children, elderly people, they all engage in the cult of kawaii. When even the most serious of objects gets a touch of kawaii, it often leads to slightly comical scenes (for the Western beholder at least). But the cult of kawaii it is one the very typical things that make Japan what it is, and I am both fascinated and delighted by it.

cute japanese roadblocks paramedics

Here is another kind of Japanese roadblock that we saw on the same road. I am not sure if they are supposed to be paramedics (a bit ominous, don’t you think?) or just safety workers of some kind, urging us to be safe.

Japanese love hotels

Love hotels are abundant in Japan. This is largely due to the lack of privacy that is part of daily life in Japan. The walls of some appartements are paper-thin, multi-generational living is quite common and many people still pretend that they don’t have sex before marriage.

This implies that love hotels are by no means only for people who are conducting illicit affairs. A lot of people who visit Japanese love hotels are legitimately together, or even married. Many couples just want to enjoy themselves without having to worry about the children or the neighbours overhearing them.

Nevertheless, Japanese love hotels are all about privacy. The one I visited had screens between parking places and wooden signs to cover the license plate of your car, in case someone you know were to visit the same hotel.

Japanese love hotel privacy

Screen partitions between the cars and boards to cover the license plate for privacy

The entrance of the hotel was through the parking garage, to further reduce the chance of anyone seeing you. Everything was very dimly lit, which made taking pictures a bit difficult. I hereby apologize for the quality of the photographs.

Japanese love hotel entrance

The dimly lit entrance to a Japanese love hotel

Once inside, I was surprised by how nice everything looked. Nothing sleazy about it. In fact, it was nicer than some of the ryokan where we sometimes stayed during travelling. I have heard stories about foreigners using love hotels during their touristic travels when all the other hotels in a city were booked full, as can happen for example during golden week, or autumn leaves season in Kyoto.

Japanese love hotel lobby

What a gorgeous lobby! Not at all what I expected from a love hotel.

Inside there is a waiting area, in case you and your lover are arriving in separate cars. Of course the waiting area is nicely partitioned off, again to ensure privacy. Every waiting cubicle has a letter, so you can text your lover to tell them in which cubicle you are waiting. There is also a small ‘bar’, in reality more like a self-service drinks station. Overall, it’s all very nice, anonymous and welcoming. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again: the Japanese are masters of customer service.

Japanese love hotel waiting area

Private waiting area to meet up with your lover, with a letter to indicate each cubicle. Of course the door can be closed, so that nobody sees you.

Japanese love hotel waiting area tv

There is even a tv in the waiting area.

Japanese love hotel bar

A self-service bar. All the drinks are free.

When you have met up with your lover, it’s time to book a room. There is a screen that shows all the rooms. The ones that are available, are lit up. At the time we were there, which was a Tuesday afternoon around 3 p.m., there were not many rooms left. I was amazed to see so many rooms in use on a weekday afternoon. Don’t these people have jobs or something?

Japanese love hotel rooms overview

An overview of the rooms in the hotel. All the dark pictures are occupied rooms. I am not sure what the red lights on some of the rooms mean though. Perhaps that they are freeing up soon?

Japanese love hotel rooms detail

A more detailed image of the room information

Prices differ per room and also depend on how long you want to stay. There are two possibilities: you can just have a ‘rest’, which according to the hotel’s website is 4 to 5 hours during the day or 2 hours at nighttime, which starts after midnight; or you can have a proper ‘stay’, which is roughly from 9 p.m. until 11 a.m the next day, on weekends. Weekdays have several different plans for a ‘stay’.

Judging from the pictures, the rooms look very nice and seem quite spacious as well. Or is that just the camera angle? Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go up to the rooms. I was there with a (girl)friend, who took me to the love hotel in a spur of the moment, crazy impulse to satisfy my curiosity about every aspect of life in Japan. And of course we had a good laugh along the way! But unfortunately my curiosity wasn’t strong enough to make me spend 6500 yen just to have a quick look at one of the rooms.

Once you’ve made your choice, you can input the room number of your choice on a computer screen. There is a an elevator in the corner to take you up. Very sleek, efficient and anonymous.

Japanese love hotel front desk

The front desk where you input your room of choice. The telephone connects you to an employee if you have any questions.

I made a little video to give you a tour of the lobby of the love hotel. This particular hotel was ‘Hotel Siesta Togo’ near Toyota City (between Toyota City and Nagoya).

If you want to know more about love hotels in Japan and specifically the Nagoya area, I refer you to this interesting article about love hotels in Nagoya’s Magazine. It provides some general background on the love hotel culture in Japan and recommends some love hotels in the Nagoya area.

 

 

 

Buddha and Jesus side by side

Many Western hotels have a Bible in every room. I never quite understood why that was the case, so today I looked it up. Apparently the Bibles in hotel rooms are the work of an American society called ‘Gideons International’. Their main objective is to provide Bibles free of charge. They are best known for placing Bibles in hotel rooms, but they also distribute Bibles to hospitals and jails.

When I was in Japan, I noticed something interesting in our hotel room: it held not one but two religious books. Our Western style room contained a Bible (The New Testament to be exact) and a copy of The Teaching of Buddha.

bible and buddhist teachings in a hotel room in japan

The New Testament and The Teaching of Buddha side by side in our Japanese hotel room. Also notice the emergency flash light next to the books, in case of an earthquake.

I have no idea if The Gideons are responsible for the Bible in the room. Do they operate outside of the US as well? Or is The New Testament just an attempt of the hotel to emulate an American style and make foreign guests feel welcome? It seems odd that a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian would offer a Bible in hotel rooms. But then again, our hotel was clearly oriented towards foreigners.

I also wonder who placed The Teaching of Buddha in the room. Surely that can’t be the work of The Gideons. Is there a similar society for spreading the word of Buddha? Or is it just an initiative of the hotel business in Japan to make Japanese guests feel equally welcome?

bible and buddhist teachings in a japanese hotel room

The Teaching of Buddha, in English and Japanese

In any case it felt really typical of Japan that they would offer multiple options, thus attempting to please all guests and to avoid any possible offence. It also felt a bit exotic to see The Teaching of Buddha in our Western style room. It’s little differences like these that make life in Japan so fascinating to me!

I later found out that The Teaching of Buddha is provided by The Society for the Promotion of Buddhism (Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai). The Society is Japanese in origin and was founded by Mr. Numata in 1965. Meanwhile it has offices all over the world. They compiled the book The Teaching of Buddha and have distributed over 8 million copies to hotels in over 50 countries. You can order a free copy of The Teaching of Buddha from your nearest local branch.