Valentine’s Day is a moment we should all pause our busy lives to celebrate love and the important people in our lives with whom we share special moments – not only lovers but also friends or family.
Obviously a popular holiday on the American continent, followed by Western Europe and in the last years Eastern Europe, the world’s interest towards the popular celebration of love has been rising.
Although Valentine’s Day is internationally celebrated on 14th February, some cultures have their own version of it around the year.
1. Dragobete – Romania
Romanians celebrate Dragobete on the 24th of February, a day that not only celebrates love but also the fact that spring is getting close. In old times it was an occasion for the young girls and boys to get together and play different games, dance and confess their love for each other.
2. Dia dos Namorados – Brazil
Brazilians celebrate Dia dos Namorados on 12th June, which is the day before Saint Anthony’s day (the marriage saint). One of the reasons Brazilians choose to celebrate love on this day is that traditional Valentine’s Day on February 14th would coincide with the Carnival celebration, which takes place in February and some of March. Dia dos Namorados is a day when people exchange little gifts, like sweets and flowers and lovers enjoy a romantic dinner or night out.
3. Qi xi – China
The Chinese version of Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the seventh night of the seventh month (also called Double Seven festival) of the Chinese lunar calendar – that is sometime in August. Qi xi (pronounced chee – she) is nowadays celebrated similarly to other cultures by offering flowers and chocolates to the loved ones as well as couples spending a romantic day together.
4. Valentine’s Day and White Day – Japan
Japanese culture celebrates love on the same day as Valentine’s Day but instead of men offering gifts to women, it’s the other way around. Then one month later, on 14th March on White Day, it’s the men’s turn to reciprocate the gifts. The difference is that Valentine’s Day chocolates are a symbol of a man’s popularity, but the ones on White Day are only for couples or romantically involved people. Black Day (on April 14th) however is a day when the singles, or the people that haven’t received any gifts on any of the holidays, gather to “commiserate”, often wearing black, eating black coloured food and complaining about their love life.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day – or maybe you don’t celebrate at all – we believe love is a great feeling that we should hold onto every day and show our loved ones how much they mean to us.
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To finish up our Japanese week, Safia’s written today’s blog post on her top ten reasons to visit Tokyo.
Do you live in Tokyo, or have you visited? Please share your own top tips in the comments!
1. The old and the new
Before I even start talking about specific points of interest, all you need to do is to walk down the street to see how traditional and modern Japanese culture both collide and sit beautifully side by side. Temples of all shapes and sizes pop up everywhere in between buildings and houses (many of which are open to the public), kimonos and yukatas are still worn as everyday wear and not just for special occasions, and I will never stop being excited about literally being able to buy anything under the sun from a vending machine.
2. Harajuku/Meiji Temple
For the weird, the wonderful and the fandom, Harajuku is the place to be to find the centre of Japanese youth and fashion culture. If you like to people-watch, there are usually a handful of cosplayers or colourfully dressed youths hanging around the station area and the backstreets are packed with little independent boutiques. In stark contrast, Meiji Jingu is also located here with the entrance round the corner from the station, and is an Imperial Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. If you’re lucky enough you may even get to see a wedding, as it is a popular venue for forthcoming nuptials.
3. Tsukiji Market
There are very few places in the world where I would consider waking up at 5am just to get some fish, but Tsukiji Market is definitely one of them. If the idea of raw fish (sashimi) sends you heaving, I urge you to give it another go for the love of tuna that just melts on your tongue. I promise when it’s this fresh and prepared this delicately there is nothing else like it, and there will be plenty of other sushi options as well. Personally as a foodie, I skipped straight to the food, but if you want to see the tuna auction you really have to get there early as there are limited spaces for viewers. Some of the queues for the restaurants can get quite long as well, but surely that’s just testament to how good it’s going to be inside?
4. Boat ride on the Sumida River
Take a journey down the river and under its many bridges to see Tokyo from a different point of view. Jump on at Asakusa where most of the water buses start from and you’re guaranteed to see at least twelve different bridges along this route. If architecture and design spark your interest then this is definitely a trip for you. And if sipping a cool beer on a boat on a sunny day sparks your interest then I’d say this is a trip for you too! There are various routes including a round trip, but I can recommend getting off at the Hama-rikyu gardens for an added sightseeing bonus.
When it comes to food, where do I even start? I wouldn’t blame you if the first thing that came to mind was sushi followed swiftly by ramen, but there is so much more to Japanese cuisine. This section deserves its own blog post, but before I get too tempted let me recommend three things that I think you should definitely try on your trip (that doesn’t include sushi or ramen!):
Takoyaki (Octopus balls)
Bearing in mind that’s a literal translation, takoyaki is a batter cooked in a special pan filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger and various other ingredients, all brought together in a handy bite-sized ball.
Okonomoyaki (Grilled savoury pancake)
Quite often this pancake-like dish is cooked on a hot grill right in front of you with the main ingredient being cabbage. Be sure to check if it’s a grill-it-yourself establishment so you’re not sitting there twiddling your thumbs while everyone else is already tucking in!
Yakitori (Skewered food)
Basically, meat on a stick (and sometimes vegetables) but with some amazing local flavouring. If you can find it, there’s a brilliant little alleyway in Shinjuku where local eateries are crammed in next to and top of one another.
I can only describe an Izakaya as a cross between a pub and a tapas restaurant in a laid back and cosy setting. Although they can at first seem intimidating to a foreigner, they’re great for unwinding after a long day of sightseeing (or work) and getting acquainted with the locals. If you’re having a tough time looking for one, many still sport a traditional red lantern outside the premises. Food comes as and when ordered and ready rather than in courses and is usually shared between the group if you’re with other people.
Surely it’s not possible to go to the motherland of karaoke without actually going to a karaoke bar at least once? Even if you don’t like karaoke, you’re in another country and no one will ever know, unless you accidently post a picture on Facebook. So lose your inhibitions, grab that mic and belt out some tunes in a foreign language! Japanese karaoke is an altogether individual experience and there are such a variety of bars and boxes to choose from, whether you’d like to be surrounded by Hello Kitty memorabilia or even sing from a hot tub. Check out the Shibuya and Roppongi areas as a starting point.
8. Tokyo Tower
At a whopping 634m tall, Tokyo Tower is hands down one of the best ways to survey the city. If you need a break from the bustling streets below, I highly recommend popping up and having a little gander. The night time view is spectacular with Tokyo’s array of high rise buildings and bright lights. During the day if you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky, then you may even get to see some distant points of interest which are very handily marked around the tower for you, such as ‘Mt. Fuji, 97km, that way’.
9. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season
Around April something magical happens in Japan and it’s called Sakura or Cherry Blossom season. As it’s seasonal the exact time of the year can vary, but if you manage to catch it the flurry of pink and white blossoms can be breathtaking. Sakura hot spots in Tokyo include Shinjuku Gyoen and Ueno Park, both boasting over 1,000 Sakura trees. Be prepared for crowds during peak season as popular areas can get amazingly crowded with Sakura enthusiasts.
10. Asakusa/Sensou-ji Temple
Asakusa definitely has a bit more of an older feel to it compared to some of Tokyo’s other more shiny districts like Ginza. Many of the buildings were built around the 1950s/60s since prior to this most were lost to bombs in war. This included one of Tokyo’s most popular temples Sensou-ji, which was originally built in the 7th century. It was rebuilt after WWII to symbolise peace and rebirth to the Japanese people. To get to the temple you’ll need to navigate your way through the Nakamise shopping street, which is lined with various street food stalls and tourist shops.
One final piece of advice – don’t assume that everyone in Tokyo will speak English, because they don’t! You’ll need to learn at least a few basic phrases before you get there.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that 😉
All photos property of Safia Griffin
As it was the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, we have chosen Japanese as our Language of the Week.
First and foremost, our thoughts and good wishes go to Jules Bianchi for his full recovery following his crash on Sunday at Suzuka.
Though in many respects I’m a complete petrol head, I have never found Grand Prix very interesting to watch, lap after lap, rarely exciting in my book. However, when I started to research the history of the Japanese Grand Prix, I found some interesting facts:
Surprisingly it is the only circuit that crosses over itself in a figure of eight and therefore runs both clockwise and anti-clockwise.
The fastest lap ever recorded at the Suzuka circuit is 1:30.54 minutes and was set by Kimi Räikkönen in 2005. To put this into perspective, since the track is 3.387 miles long, if a Cheetah could run at its fastest for further than 1500ft, it would take it approximately 2.7mins!
When looking to learn Japanese it can appear very daunting because of the characters. However, it is one of those languages which is much easier to speak than write. Unlike the majority of languages, nouns do not have genders and there is also no differentiation between singular and plural. Personally, we love both these facts. There are also no pronunciation or tones.
Here are a few fun facts about Japan:
- Japan’s trains are among the most punctual in the world, their average delay is just 18 seconds. (What we’d give for that on a rainy Monday in London!)
- Japanese farmers are growing square watermelons, because they are easier to stack and store. (Now that is thinking outside the box! Or is that inside?)
- In Japan there is a cat café where you can and go drink coffee whilst hanging out with cats for hours (Is that a new kind of speed dating opportunity?)
- This one has to be one of our favourites – sleeping on the job is acceptable as it’s a sign of exhaustion from working hard. (Sweet dreams!)
- In Japan there is no Ronald McDonald!! But panic not Big Mac fans, he’s called Donald McDonald due to the lack of a clear “R” sound in Japanese.
- There is an island in Japan called Ōkunoshima or Rabbit Island, since numerous feral rabbits run wild, though apparently they are quite tame!
The challenge for you all this week is another tongue twister:
Niwa no niwa ni wa, niwa no niwatori wa niwaka ni wani wo tabeta
Which means: In (Mr) Niwa’s garden, two chickens suddenly ate a crocodile.
So let’s see your best efforts! Send us your videos on Twitter to @EuroTalk using #itsJapaneasy or send them to us on Facebook – our favourite will win a free uTalk Premium in a language of your choice. Get twisting!
Are you learning Japanese? Or do you have any favourite facts about the language or the country? Let us know in the comments!
Before you go on holiday, or on a business trip abroad, it’s a great idea to learn a little of the local language. But getting along with people is about much more than just the words you say. There are other rules too, so here are our top tips to avoid misunderstandings abroad.
1. Be very careful when exchanging business cards in Japan: they aren’t just cards, but representations of the giver and should be handled with some ceremony. NEVER write on a business card or put it in your back pocket, as this is considered disrespectful.
2. Don’t talk about work over dinner in New Zealand, even if you’re having a meal with your colleagues. It’s fine to talk business over lunch, though.
3. In Muslim countries it’s considered an insult if you show the soles of your feet, so watch how you sit.
4. If you’re in Hungary and you’ve been told your meeting is at ‘fél négy’ (‘half four’), don’t turn up at 4:30 – ‘fél négy’ actually means half an hour TO four, so you’ll need to be there at half past three.
5. On the other hand, if you’ve been invited to a gathering in France, always aim to arrive 15-30 minutes late, to allow the host time to get ready.
6. Making a circle with your forefinger and thumb as another way of saying ‘OK’ is seen as an extremely offensive gesture in Brazil. As is the ‘thumbs up’ gesture in Iran, and showing your palm in Greece. It might be better to just avoid hand gestures altogether…
7. In Germany, not making eye contact when you clink glasses is considered very rude. It also, apparently, means you’ll have seven years’ bad luck in the bedroom. So even if you’re not worried about being thought bad-mannered, it might be worth making the effort. Just in case.
8. In Bulgaria, nodding your head means no, and shaking your head means yes, which is the opposite of what most of us are used to. This is worth remembering or you could get yourself into all kinds of trouble.
9. It’s been illegal to bring chewing gum into Singapore since 2004, because of the damage being caused to public buildings and facilities by people leaving their gum behind. You can also be fined for not flushing a public toilet.
10. In Russia, if you’re giving someone flowers, make sure you give them an odd number. Even numbers are for funerals.
11. It’s important to show respect to your elders in Asia, so don’t call them by their name; instead use ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, even if you don’t know them.
12. When eating a meal in Spain, you’ll be expected to clear your plate, and leaving some food is seen as rude. In Russia, on the other hand, you’re expected to leave a little as a sign that your host has provided enough to fill you up. And in China, a polite belch when you finish eating is considered a compliment to the chef, although it’s frowned upon in many other countries.
13. Never say anything disrespectful about the king in Thailand, as this could land you in prison for several years.
14. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed before going to church in Italy. This means your shoulders, knees and midriff should all be covered, or you won’t be allowed in.
15. In Malawi, it’s common for people of the same sex to hold hands; this is a sign of close friendship, so don’t worry if someone tries to take your hand. It’s a compliment. Men and women holding hands is rare, though, and may be frowned upon.
As always, if anyone has any others, we’d love to hear from you!