Is it Shinbun or Shimbun?

Is it Shinbun or Shimbun?

It’s both. And it’s neither.

Beginner students often ask whether “shinbun” or “shimbun” (the word for “newspaper” in Japanese) is correct.

You’ll see both spellings...and books about the Japanese language don’t seem to be able to agree either.

If you look at the two most popular Japanese beginner textbooks, Genki has “shinbun”, whereas Japanese for Busy People has “shimbun” and also “kombanwa”.

But why?

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What is the Japanese Calendar, and what year is it?

What is the Japanese Calendar, and what year is it?

Did you know that Japan has its own numbering system for the years? As well as the Gregorian calendar (the same calendar used in the west, the one that says it's 2019 now), Japan uses another system which names years after the reign of the emperor.

(The western calendar is commonly used too - and the two systems can be used interchangeably.)

So, what's the date?

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 7) - Five Types of Rest Stop You'll Find Hiking In Shikoku

"Kyūkei shimashou" (休憩しましょう) is one of the first phrases I teach all my students, and it means "let's take a break".

Rest is every bit as important as activity - perhaps more important. In class, it helps you digest and absorb ideas.

And on a long-distance walk, rest stops (called kyūkeijo 休憩所 in Japanese) can be a good place to strike up a conversation …

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 6) - Shouting at the French

"Sumimaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!"

I shouted.

("Excuse me!")

The couple turned round, but they didn't move. They were both dressed in full pilgrim garb: long white clothes, their heads protected by conical hats.

"Otoshimono desu!"

("You dropped this!")

They stared at me blankly …

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 5) - Signs of Shikoku

"Gambatte kudasai" is sort of untranslatable but also extremely translatable. (The best kind of Japanese phrase!)

Gambatte kudasai means "do your best!" or "go for it!"

When I started learning Japanese at university in 2008, my classmates and I thought the phrase gambatte kudasai was quite funny for some reason ...

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 4) - How to Talk to Strangers in Japanese


A stranger, they say, is just a friend you haven't met yet.

And talking to strangers is a great way to speak lots of Japanese. I did lots of this while walking the first section of the Shikoku pilgrimage this spring.

But how do you start a conversation with a stranger? Here are some ideas to get you going, even if you're a beginner at Japanese.


1) the weather


Brits love to talk about the weather. Luckily, so do people in Japan. It's almost like a greeting.

Chuck one of these out and start the conversation:

暑いですね atsui desu ne! "Hot, isn't it?"
寒いですね samui desu ne! "Cold, isn't it?"

Very possibly, you'll get a そうですね   sou desu ne; "Isn't it just", in response, and you can start the conversation from there.


2) things you can see


You reach the top of a hill and sit on a bench. The person on the adjacent seat turns to greet you.

You can start a conversation easily by simply pointing and commenting on what you can see:

すごいですね Sugoi desu ne. "Amazing, isn't it?"
綺麗ですね Kirei desu ne. "Isn't it lovely?"
美しいですね。Utsukushii desu ne. Beautiful, isn't it?


3) ask simple questions

What about if you don't know what you're looking at? Just ask.

すみませんが、それはなんですか。 Sumimasen ga, sore wa nan desu ka.
"Excuse me, but what's that?"
これは日本語でなんと言いますか。 Kore wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka. "What do you call this in Japanese?"

4) start in Japanese

If your Japanese is limited, and you speak English, it might be tempting to walk into a hotel or restaurant and start the conversation in English - or to ask if the person speaks Japanese.

Even if you're a beginner, try and start the conversation in Japanese, with a greeting:

こんにちは! konnichiwa! "hello"

こんばんは! kombanwa! "good evening"

おはようございます! ohayou gozaimasu! "good morning"

Remember, if you start the conversation in English (or another language), the chances of getting some Japanese practice are virtually zero. Try and at least start in Japanese.


5) smile


You might be nervous about speaking Japanese. But the absolute best way to get someone to speak with you is to smile while talking with them!

Hopefully, you can put them at ease that you're a friendly, wonderful person. Someone worth talking to. Which, of course, you are.

After all, you're just a friend they haven't met yet too.


Related posts:

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 1) - Plan, plan, plan!
Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan
Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 3) - What To Wear


P.S.   If you liked this post on talking to strangers in simple Japanese, check out my new course Survival Japanese for Beginners - starts July 26th 2018, in central Brighton. It's ideal for anyone planning a trip to Japan soon!

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 3) - What To Wear


When I told my Japanese friends I was planning to walk the Shikoku Henro trail, several of them said the same thing. "Are you going to wear a hat?"

For many people, the image of a walker in a bamboo hat is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of the pilgrimage.

But what "should" you wear on the Shikoku 88, a Buddhist pilgrimage trail?

Some pilgrims don't wear any special gear at all - just normal walking clothes. That's fine. But some walkers choose to wear special clothes, many of which have symbolic significance.

Many people wear a white jacket to walk the trail. It's called a 白衣 hakui. This is the first piece of pilgrim garb I bought, at temple number 1. Some have sleeves; mine is sleeveless.

Wearing the white jacket signals to people that you are a pilgrim. So if you want to talk with lots of people on Shikoku, wearing pilgrim clothes is a great conversation starter.

↓ Even my guidebook (well, one of them) has a hat-wearing, white-jacketed pilgrim on the cover.


Actually, some pilgrims wear all white.  I met a lovely older gentleman several times on the trail, who had just turned 80. He was all in bright white, and looked very striking.

According to Nippon.com:
"White is worn because long ago some pilgrims would collapse from the physical exertion and die during the pilgrimage, and the white robes could serve as their burial clothes.

The colour white also carries the meaning that all pilgrims are equal in front of the Buddha."
I prefer the second meaning, I think!

Even if you don't wear white, it's be good to wear lighter colours - I saw a lot of people in light coloured clothes. I didn't know this when I planned my trip, so my walking clothes are all dark.

If I buy new kit before I go back, I might try and buy lighter coloured clothes. I didn't get the impression it matters too much though.

↓ A tour group of pilgrims, many dressed in white or light clothes


I also got a 納経帳 noukyouchou at that first temple, a stamp book with 88 pages (one for each temple). At each temple, after praying and visiting the various halls, you can get your book stamped as proof that you've been there.

I met another lovely Japanese man named Shinichi, who kindly showed me around various rituals, explaining aspects of the temple and the praying process to me.

I'm not Buddhist, but I really enjoyed and appreciated the ritual of praying at each temple. I found it fascinating, and very calming.


After lighting incense and a candle, you give an offering at each hall of an osamefuda (納め札), a slip of paper onto which you can write your name, address and a message of good will.

↓ Pilgrims also give the paper slips to people who help them along their way - like this restaurant, where the walls were papered with osamefuda.


In the stamp office, the staff doing calligraphy were often surprised to see a non-Japanese visitor, and would usually ask where I was from and if I was walking the whole route.

I had a lot of pleasant conversations with the men and women in the stamp offices. Again, I think wearing the pilgrim kit helps here.

Later on, I got a 菅笠 suge-gasa, a bamboo sedge hat. This conical hat keeps the sun out of your eyes, and it works as a rain-hat too.


The suge-gasa was surprisingly sturdy - when I wasn't wearing it, I strapped it to the back of my backpack, and despite getting bashed about a bit (sorry, hat!) it still looks as good as new.

Now, back in England, it's sitting in my office waiting for my next trip...

A bit further into the week, I acquired a 輪袈裟 wagesa, a kind of stole or scarf . Traditionally, this is an item worn by monks, but now it just symbolises that the wearer is a pilgrim.

↓ Me with green wagesa

↓ You have to take the wagesa off when eating or washing. This public toilet even had a hook outside to hang your stole on.


Many people also walk with a 金剛杖 kongou-zue, a wooden walking stick. The stick symbolises Kōbō Daishi himself, the monk in whose footsteps pilgrims walk.

Pilgrims are supposed to take care of the stick before they care for themselves - washing the bottom of the stick before washing your own feet, and so forth.

The nicer sticks have a bell hanging from the top, and according to the fantastic site Shikoku Henro Trail:

"The intent of the bell is to keep pulling your attention back to the present; back to reality and what you are doing so that you don't just day dream all day as you walk."
The bell is also good for alerting bears and wild boar to your presence, so they won't be startled by you. And you can hit the stick on the ground as you walk to scare away snakes.

↓ Simple sticks, available for walkers to use for free at one of the temples


I didn't get a stick (personally I don't really like walking with a stick, even a spiritually significant one). But I might get one next time, or just a bell, to scare off wild animals.

People seem to pick and choose from the pilgrimage clothes available. I saw many tour groups wearing full and matching outfits. They looked good, but the set-up costs are expensive.

↓ A tour group relaxing in the evening (in matching kit)


Cyclists and some walkers seem to take a more practical pick-and-mix approach to clothing. Anyway, I didn't get the impression that anyone will be offended by a failure to wear full pilgrim garb.

The white jacket and hat are definitely a really good conversation starter though.

↓ And you can keep the rain off your backpack...!


Related posts:

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 1) - Plan, plan, plan!
Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan