Our A-Z (minus X) guide for Japan.


Image: Moving Menus

A: Arigato gozaimasu

Translation: Thank you very much. If you are planning to visit Japan and wish to learn a few local sayings interact with the locals, this should be at the top of your list.

B: Bonsai

Bonsai is a Japanese art form where miniature trees are cultivated in small pots.

Keep your eye out for a local florist or hunt down a Bonsai nursery, to admire the beauty and intricacy of the Bonsai tree.

C: Calligraphy

Calligraphy is another form of art that has been embedded in the Japanese culture for centuries.

Why not try your hand at it and take a calligraphy class, and learn the history and values of this tradition.

Artistic writing, which stems from Chinese calligraphy, has been used in the Japanese culture

D: Daiso

Imagine a Japanese version of a $2 store. Full of things you don’t need, but you can’t say no to. You’ll find these in most major shopping districts. I dare you to go in and not find something you need…

E: Etiquette

The code of etiquette in Japan governs the expectations of social behaviour. It is worth making yourself familiar with some local etiquette before you travel, so you don’t offend someone accidentally. Also, make sure you look out the window when your plane departs (if you’re facing the terminal) and watch as the ground staff bid you farewell, waving as the plane maneuvers and a respectful bow.

F: Fish

Raw fish – sashimi – is an integral part of the Japanese diet. If you don’t mind living on the edge then venture past the standard salmon, tuna or white fish sashimi and try some of the local delicacies. Read here to educate yourself on what you may find on a local Japanese menu.

G: Gyoza

Pockets of deliciousness in the form of dumplings – either fried or steamed.

Order a plate of gyoza and a Sapporo to start your night the right way.

H: High-speed rail (shinkansen)

Also known as their ‘bullet trains’, the Shinkansen can reach speeds of up to 320km/h, which makes travel between major cities on a tight itinerary possible. Visit Japan Rail to view your options for itineraries, or contact your local travel agent who can help with your booking.

I: Itadakimasu 

In English, it is tradition to say ‘bon apatite’ when receiving a meal (although it originates from the French language). In Japan, the term is ‘itadakimasu’.

J: Judo

Judo is a famous Japanese martial art and Olympic sport. As per the Japan Guide, “The emphasis of Judo is on the training of one’s body and spirit, rather than solely on winning combats.”

K: Kimono

Want to know when and why a Kimono is worn? There’s more types of kimonos than you can imagine, which are worn for different events.

On a more casual note, you’re likely to find them in your hotel in place of – or in addition to – your bathrobe.

Get in the spirit and try it on.

L: Lanterns

Lanterns are a traditional form of lighting in Japan. They are traditionally made of thin paper stretched over bamboo to protect the flame from the wind.

M: Matcha Tea Ceremony

The matcha tea ceremony has been an integral part of the traditional Japanese culture for centuries, according to epic matcha.

A lot of hotels will have the facilities for you to experience this local tradition – it’s worth doing once.

N: Nori

If you’ve never tried sushi before then you’re about to become acquainted with Nori – dried edible seaweed. Nori is used as the shell to case the rice and filling of a standard sushi roll.

Interested in how sushi rolls are made using nori? Hunt down a local cooking school and learn from the masters.

O: Onsen

Hello natural spring, bubbling goodness. If you’re the shy type who gets heart palpitations at the thought of stripping down to your birthday suit in front a group of strangers (of the same sex) then you may want to skip this one…if not, it’s a local tradition worth trying.

P: Poki

Japanese aren’t shy to sugary sweets and Poki is one of the most popular types on offer. Wafer sticks covered with a variety of chocolate toppings – green tea, almond or pain chocolate. They are light and small, and you can enjoy them without suffering from post-sugar guilts.

Q: Q-chan.

After much research, it was discovered the letter Q doesn’t feature in the Japanese language.

As per the Japan Visitor Guide the only Q associated with Japan is Q-Chan, which is the nickname of popular marathon runner and 2000 Sydney Olympic marathon champion (her time 2hr, 23min, 14sec), Naoko Takahashi.

R: Ryokan

Who needs big soft mattresses when you can sleep on straw mats…if you’re up for the experience make sure you book a night or two in a Ryokan – a Japanese traditional home stay.

S: Sumimasen

This is another phrase for you to learn to get you through your visit to Japan. Translation: excuse me.

Don’t be a rude tourist clicking your fingers.

T: Toto 

For those who have never visited Japan before, or heard of a Toto, you’re in for a real treat. Toto is a Japanese company that produces the most amazing toilets known to the universe.

Can you imagine that a toilet console has bidet features, sound settings, and best of all (especially in winter) a warming feature? Toto does (and more…although you may need an instruction manual to understand all the features).

U: Umai

Translation: Delicious! When presented with a meal, after you’ve said ‘itadakimasu’, tasted said meal and your mouth has exploded with amazement, the best expression to use is ‘umai’ (you can use hand gestures to further express how much you enjoyed it, such as a thumbs up).

Note: The younger generation and men generally use ‘umai’. If you consider yourself ‘a lady’ then the more appropriate term is ‘oishii’.

V: Vending Machines

Feel like a late-night beer or snack, or your phone charger just died on you? Vending machines are dotted around the streets and you’ll be surprised what you may find. If you’re still curious, here’s a list of 40 Thing You Don’t Expect To Find In Vending Machines.

W: Wasabi

For any wasabi virgins out there – go easy with this powerful, green Japanese horseradish! For the rest – get into it! Keep your eyes peeled for other wasabi flavoured treats: nuts, chips or even a wasabi flavoured KitKat!

Y: Yakitori

Meat and vegetables threaded on wooden sticks and cooked on an open BBQ-style flame. It’s a prefect starter to a meal or a quick bite for lunch.

If you’re in Tokyo, make your way to Yakitori Alley in the Ginza district.

Z: Zazen 

After making your way through A-Y you’re going to need some decent Zazen, which is a Japanese style of mediation.