Say Good Morning to the Room - The Importance of Aisatsu (Greetings) in Japan

Say Good Morning to the Room - The Importance of Aisatsu (Greetings) in Japan

By the entrance to the conference room, there was a flip chart with a message: “Please sign in here, and then go through the door and say good morning to the room”.


We had practiced this yesterday. “In Japanese workplaces,” they told us, “you must greet the room enthusiastically when entering.”

As I took my seat, I noticed that some trainees had been given a piece of card by staff as they entered.

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan

Spoiler alert: this post isn't about the Shikoku pilgrimage, although it is about the same trip. It's about what I did with my spare first day in Nagoya: the lost day...

Arriving first thing in the morning on a long-haul flight is not ideal. You're tired, jet-lagged and yet you need to stay awake until a normal bedtime, so you can adjust your body clock.

I had almost 12 hours to kill on that first day, and was waiting for my friends to finish work.

So what do you do with a whole day to yourself? I like to plan, so I made a plan. It went pretty well.

I know Nagoya well, as I used to live there. My first thought was to go to Komeda, a coffee chain I like that's originally from Nagoya, for モーニング (mо̄ningu; breakfast set). But I'd already had breakfast on the plane, so I resisted the temptation to have a second breakfast, and went straight to Atsuta Shrine instead.

熱田神宮 (Atsuta Jingū; Atsuta Shrine) is a beautiful and important Shinto shrine. It's right by 神宮前 (Jingūmae) station, which makes sense seeing as jingū-mae means "in front of the shrine".

The train from the airport stops at Jingūmae, so I got off there and headed straight to a depachika (デパ地下). Depachika is the (often amazing) basement floor of a department store, where the food is, and I wanted sushi and cold green tea. I bought lunch there and then went to the shrine.

It's not really ok to eat in temple or shrine grounds, but there was a rest area with vending machines, so I sat there and had my mackerel sushi. 

I also had this tiny beer (to celebrate being in Japan after almost two years). I had a good feeling about this day already.

↓ Atsuta Shrine

There was a wedding going on, too:

↓ Yay!

Next up, I headed to the onsen (温泉; hot spring). I picked this for two reasons - the first is that I love onsen, and I couldn't wait to go back to one and relax.

The second reason I wanted to go to the onsen is that I'd been on a long-haul flight since 7am UK time, and I really wanted a shower.

Onsen is also a pretty good solo activity - assuming you find being naked with strangers less embarrassing than being naked with friends (I do). Japanese hot springs are a communal affair; separated by gender, but no swimsuits allowed.

I'd used the airport wifi to look up some reviews, and decided on Miya no yu (宮の湯). It was about a half-hour walk from the shrine, and I could walk there along the river. There were late plum blossoms, and some sprinklings of cherry blossoms too.

↓ At the onsen (no pictures in the bath, for obvious reasons)

There were a bunch of different baths, including a 電気風呂 (denki-buro) which literally translates as "electric bath", and is - yikes - a hot bath with low-level electric current running through it. 

You might think that electricity and water don't mix, and you'd be right. The denki-buro is worth a try though - unless you have a pacemaker, in which case give it a miss. It feels a bit like prickly pins and needles.

There was also a smaller bath with "water of the month". This month's special water was よもぎ (yomogi; Japanese mugwort). The water was a vivid bright green and looked like melon soda.

After a long soak in various entertaining baths, I got dressed and had a lie down and a bottle of milk.

Milk is a surprisingly popular post-bath drink, considering Japan doesn't have a long history of dairy consumption.  お風呂上がりの牛乳 (ofuro agari no gyuunyuu; milk after a bath) is almost as good as お風呂上がりのビール (ofuro agari no biiru; beer after a bath).

I'd already had one tiny beer though and was fighting off jet lag, so I stuck to milk. There's something very satisfying about glass bottles of milk.

I lay down in this tatami mat rest area, and watched some Japanese variety shows on a distant TV:

It was 4pm. I still had two hours to kill before my friends finished work, so I went to karaoke.

There's even a special word for "going to karaoke by yourself" in Japanese: ヒトカラ (hito-kara), which is short for 一人カラオケ (hitori karaoke).

Don't get me wrong - karaoke is fun with friends. But it's super fun by yourself too, and in a different way.

You can hog the microphone, and practice the same song three times in a row without anyone complaining. And you don't have to listen to other people's dubious song choices and dodgy singing.

↓ It's all your own dubious song choices and dodgy singing!

After an hour of singing and all-you-can-drink soft drinks from the ドリンクバー (dorinku baa; self-service drink bar), I got the subway to meet my friends.

We went to Minoji, a 焼き鳥屋 (yakitori-ya), a restaurant serving yakitori aka "things on sticks". Finally, some hot Japanese food!

I got to eat a lot of different things, old and new. But more importantly, I got to catch up with old friends. I was having so much fun I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the restaurant, with its red lanterns and moody lighting.

I didn't realise until afterwards, but the first time I ever went to Minoji was actually my very first night in Nagoya, after I moved there in 2011.

It made me pretty happy to be back there in 2018. The perfect end to a perfect first day back in Japan.

I wasn't sure how relaxing the rest of the trip would be, but that first day in Nagoya, I was so relaxed!

Not bad for a "lost day", right?

Click here to read part 1 (which is actually about the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage!)

Japan-Specific Emoji: Food

Do you remember the first time you used a phone with an emoji keyboard?

I do. It was kind of overwhelming. I scrolled and scrolled, and wondered what all these characters could possibly be for.

Because emoji originated in Japan, some of them are quite specific to Japanese culture.

Some are obvious - but others might not mean what you think!

せんべい Rice Cracker

(Emoji images from

"What's that brown circle with the square on it?"

せんべい senbei or sembei) are crunchy rice crackers. Usually savoury, they're made from Japan's staple food - rice.

This one in the emoji picture is partly wrapped in a sheet of dried のり (nori) seaweed. Yum!

弁当 Bento Box

A 弁当 bentō (bentou!) is a boxed lunch containing rice, with fish or meat, and usually picked vegetables.

Look closely - this bentō has sushi in it too!

団子 Dango

Dango are Japanese sweets made from sticky rice and sugar. They're chewy and squishy. I'm a big fan!

They're served on a stick to make it easier to eat.

These coloured ones can also be called 三色 sanshoku ("three-coloured") dango, or 花見 hanami ("flower-viewing") dango.

エビフライ Fried Prawn

エビフライ (ebi-furai) or "fried prawn" is a specialty food of Nagoya, where I lived from 2011-2014.

I can't eat prawns though, so it's not my favourite food. You can have mine.

マンガ肉 Manga Meat

マンガ肉 (manga niku) is meat on the bone stylised like the cartoon meat you see in anime and manga.

Also known as あの肉 (ano niku) "that meat".

In a glorious case of life imitating art, you can actually get manga niku some places. We had it in the Capcom bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo last year:

おでん Oden

A classic winter comfort food, oden is a hot-pot made by simmering various ingredients in dashi fish broth.

Some of the ingredients are skewered - again, to make them easier to eat!

The triangle on the top is こんにゃく (konnyaku), a gelatinous speckled grey food that tastes better than it looks.

Next time you're scrolling through your emoji, see if there are any you always skip past.

Or are there any that make you go "what on earth is that one...?"

Umbrellas Lost And Found - The Hundred Yen Shop

Did you know Japan owns the most umbrellas per person in the world?

For every person in Japan, there are 3.3 umbrellas.

At least three of them are mine, left outside shops.

In 2011, fresh off the boat in Japan, I moved into my new apartment on the outskirts of Nagoya. At the weekends I'd head to Daiso, the 100-yen shop, to buy bits and pieces for my new flat.

One day, I left my umbrella in the stand outside the 100-yen shop. It was quite a nice umbrella - a neat little folding one - and I was annoyed. I went back to the shop the next day.

My little blue umbrella wasn't in the rack, so I asked at the register.

My Japanese was quite limited then, but I knew how to say 傘を忘れました (kasa o wasuremashita, "I left my umbrella").

The shop assistant looked a bit bemused, but wanted to help me, so she asked me what the umbrella looked like.

I told her the umbrella was 小さい (small). I gestured to show it was very small.

Aa, oritatami desu ka?
Oh, is it "oritatami"?

I didn't know what "oritatami" meant, and I didn't have a dictionary with me (or smartphone!), so I repeated that it was small.

The shop assistant bustled about, murmuring:

"Oritatami, oritatami, oritatami..."

She went off to look somewhere else, and then came back and apologised profusely. My umbrella was gone.

I walked home. It started to rain.

At home, I pulled out my romaji dictionary. Oritatami means "folding"!

I'lll never forget that word, I thought.

I lost my little umbrella, but I gained a new word in my vocabulary. You need more than 3.3 words per person, after all...