A Humorous Look At Japan With Amy Chavez

SEASON 1 EPISODE 31

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  • Amy Chavez who is a long time resident of Japan and a columnist for the Japan Times as well as the Huffington Post website. Her column ‘Japan Lite’ has been published since 1997 and take a humorous look at the differences between Western and Japanese cultures.
  • Her latest book Japan: Funny Side up is a unique travel guide that gives valuable tips and insights into the mysterious and sometimes strange aspects of Japanese culture and society.
  • Special Guest: Brad Stephenson from 25Cafes gives us his latest review from the high fashion area of Omotesando that should be a treat for all you chocolate lovers

Satisfy your chocolate cravings with La Maison Du Chocolat Paris

If you are looking a great place to set a date, catch up with friends, or enjoy a quick dessert near the Hanzomon train line, this chocolate café is a place to go. This French Café houses a confectionery store in its ground floor and a café on the top floor, its glass walls providing a great view for people watching. The menu is focused on chocolate along with coffee, tea and cakes so it may not satisfy your appetite if you are hungry and looking for a big meal. The cost of their meal set is quite affordable at around ¥800, similar to other restaurants in Tokyo area.

Our reviewer Brad may have found their dark chocolate drink lighter than how he likes it, but its quality is still impressive and would earn the respect of chocolatiers. Their menu is in Japanese and French, though some of their staff can speak in English. This café which opens at 11 am, is a non-smoking establishment and has very good customer service.

Read the full review at 25Cafes

A Closer Look into the Quirks of Japanese Culture and Society

Our guest Amy Chavez shares her some of her experiences and insights living in the Japan’s smaller islands. She relays how life in the islands is different compared to life in the mainland’s cities. To be able to shed more light on the many nuances of Japanese culture and society requires one to immerse in it. After taking some time to adapt to their lifestyle, foreigners would be able to understand why the Japanese work and behave as they are.

Let us take a look at the quirky case of Japan’s love for everything cute or kawaii. Hello Kitty, other cartoons and the popularity of animes already has a strong foothold in the daily Japanese life. Conservative-looking businessmen can be seen sporting adorable accessories in their phones or reading the Japanese comics manga on subways. Japan also produces curious items such as innovative home appliances and interesting content on the internet such as game shows. This side of modern Japan provides quite a contrast to its ancient past as a bushi or warrior nation governed by feudal lords. Their reserved and polite manners are still present though. Even in public spaces such as trains, Japanese people can still be disciplined and quiet in times of trouble, unlike in some countries where people would grumble over a little inconvenience.

Traditions are still alive and valued as older folks seek ways to preserve and carry on their rituals. An example of a vibrant but rather strange traditional ceremony is the Hadaka Matsuri or Naked Festival. Held every February of the year mainly at Saidaiji Kannonin Temple in Okayama City, men of all ages would run around the temple semi-naked then purify themselves with water. At night, they would gather inside the temple where a priest throws wood sticks believed to bring luck to those who are able to catch it. Despite the cold weather, these men wear almost nothing but a fundoshi or the traditional string underwear as part of its ritual. There is also the Shikoku Pilgrimage in which Amy took part of and is the topic of her next book. The pilgrimage covers 88 shrines from all over Shikoku Island and is traditionally taken by foot, although bus, bicycles and cars can also been utilized. These traditions have both local and foreigners eager to participate in it.

A more authentic taste of life in Japan could probably be found in less urbanized places. In islands such as the one Amy lives in, there are far less commercial establishments and entertainment hubs compared to major cities. But there are plenty of things that can be done in islands even without the luxuries city dwellers may be accustomed to. Boating, sailing, kayaking, and going to the beach are some activities which visitors may find relaxing. Islanders are self-sufficient by growing their own food and catching fish. This refreshing and healthy lifestyle which reflect Japan of 100 years ago attracts foreigners to visit or move in. While more bridges that have been built to connect to these islands, some inhabitants decline these in order to preserve their culture. Young people also prefer moving to other places with better jobs, adding to the worries of the elder population with regards to their disappearing customs.

Despite these, the government does not really view these as business opportunities to promote the local economy and tourism. Old people would also rather spend their time and money in maintaining their homes and leading peaceful lives. With this, islanders sought the help of people like Amy to promote their culture and attract local and international travelers to visit their islands during weekends and holiday breaks. Locals would be too happy to mingle with foreigners who can speak in Japanese. These villagers are usually accommodating to bend the rules and make allowances for visitors. But there are also those who are not used to foreigners and can get tired of entertaining them.

To experience the joy of living in Japan, one should probably try to live in the countryside and not just in the big city. Because their views range from conventional to outrageous at times, it can also push our own appreciation and understanding of varied cultures and enable one to think outside the box.

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