Sidenote: for those who do not know what sempai (or senpai, せんぱい) means, it is of course, a Japanese word, and means "senior." But not senior as in elderly, rather, senior as in more experienced or older in age/level. Similar to saying something like, "he is two years my senior." It is used often in group relationships in Japan - especially in schools or the workplace. So in high school, a 10th grade student (typically the lowest grade) would be considered a kohai (こうはい) to the 11th and 12th grade students. The 10th grade student would call the older students his or her sempai.
Anyway! Back to our featured sempai! Shirley, an American raised in Tokyo, serves up lots of delicious posts over at Lovely Lanvin. We hit it off quite instantly over Twitter when I discovered she now lives in Seattle, the place I hail from. When she told me about her volunteer experience - working with the Tokyo American Club to help expat women adjust to life in Japan - I had to ask if she would share some of her expert knowledge with us. So she's here today with some great tips for living and "surviving in Japan":
1. Keep the cab seats clean, please.
When riding in a taxi, remember not to put your wet packages or wet umbrella on the seat. Japanese cab drivers take great pride in keeping their vehicles clean and usually have white seat covers. I learned this the hard way as a teenager growing up in Tokyo. It was raining and I had a shopping bag that I placed on the ground while waiting for a cab. When I entered the cab I automatically put it next to me on the seat. A nice muddy spot resulted - so embarrassing! Just place wet packages and umbrellas on the floor of the cab.
2. Bargain away.
You can haggle or bargain in Japan even though so many Japan guides say it is rude. Japanese people do it (my Japanese husband included) and it is not considered rude. Just be polite and non-aggressive. When my husband and I lived in Tokyo three years ago we bought a giant flat screen TV at a big electronics store in Akihabara (a district in Tokyo). The TV stand was sold separately for an extra 30,000 yen. My husband asked the salesperson to throw in the stand for free since we were buying such an expensive item. The salesman, after consulting with the manager, agreed and gave us the stand. Negotiating is always worth a try, especially for expensive items.
3. Only at funerals:
Never pass food from your chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks. If you are being served with chopsticks wait for the food to be placed on your plate. Never reach out with your chopsticks to take it from the other person's chopsticks. The cremated bones of the dead are passed between family members this way at the cremation service so it's frowned upon in Japan.
4. Shoes off! (fitting rooms included)
Don't let children stand or put their feet on train or subway seats. If children want to look out the window and kneel on the seat, please take their shoes off first so shoes don't touch the seats. Just like if you were visiting someone's home, shoes on furniture, is considered to be bad manners – yes, even on a subway. This is also true for fitting rooms in most stores. You must remove your shoes before going inside the fitting rooms. Some stores will provide slippers for this.
5. Feel like home food delivery?
One of the greatest things about living in Japan (for me anyway) is the variety of food available for home delivery. Once you move to a new place in Japan (typically larger cities) you will immediately start getting delivery menus from local restaurants stuffed in your mailbox. When we lived in Roppongi, we probably had thirty menus from different places – and delivery is free. Most restaurants will bring the food on regular dishes, rather than paper or plastic ones. After you eat the food you are expected to wash the dishes and leave them outside your door in a timely manner. The restaurant will come around early the next day and pick up the dishes.
Thank you very much, Shirley, for sharing with us!
And readers, don't forget to check out her blog and try some of her yummy recipes.
Shirley Karasawa is an American born in Paris, France and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She presently lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and their dog Musashi. She studied Visual Merchandising in Tokyo, Japan and worked as a Visual Merchandiser (in both Fashion and Interiors) for many years both in Tokyo and the Seattle/Bellevue, Washington area. While living in Tokyo, Shirley also translated part-time on many Comedy/Variety shows for various Japanese television networks and for many visiting professional Athletes and Celebrities. She served on both the Cultural and Tour Committees for the Women’s Group at the Tokyo American Club in Tokyo, Japan and has taken cooking classes at various cooking schools both in Tokyo and the United States. She loves fashion, food, flower-arranging and gardening and recently started a food blog, www.lovelylanvin.com.