Gaijin on Getas Blog


Gaikos- Taking Japan’s Past Into the Future

Posted on January 22nd, 2018 by Stephanie Miera

Geiko (modern day Geishas) are arguably the most iconic symbol of Japan. Their kimonos and white makeup distinguish them as an almost Japanese celebrity.  The name Geiko translated literally means “person of the arts” as they are highly trained in various performing arts, including traditional Japanese dance and classical music. Some of their other training includes learning how to be great conversationalists and leading tea ceremonies to entertain their clientele. These young women start their journey as Maiko, meaning a Geiko in training, spending years practicing different skill sets before graduating to Geiko status.  It may surprise some to learnthat the very first geishas were actually men. It was almost two decades later when women would take over the Geisha role.

Traditionally, Geishas started painting their faces white so they could be better seen in candlelight. They continue the tradition today in honor of their history. The makeup a Maiko is wearing can also be indicative of where theyare in their training. If you see a Maiko with only their lower lip painted, this means that they are new to the training and have not earned the top lip being painted. Girls as young as 14 can decide to join the house and start their training. Their training typically takes about 5 years to complete. Once the Maiko graduate to Geiko status, they are free to live and work on their own, although, they are not permitted to get married. If the Gaiko decided to get married, they have to forfeit their Gaiko status.

Today, you will find the Geikos and Maikos in the Gion District of Kyoto. If you are in the area and very lucky, you may spot one walking to their evening appointment. You can tell the difference between the two in very subtle ways. The Maiko will have more ornaments in their hair and a more brightly colored Kimono, while the Gaikos wear a more simple, sophisticated Kimono and hairstyle.

Many of our tours offer a Tea Ceremony and other cultural activities that feature a Maiko performance. Clients have the opportunity to learn matcha making and drinking skills, ask the Maiko questions, and take some pictures with her. The cultural experience gives clients a great sense of how Japan is bringing its past into the future.

Fugu: A Deadly Meal

Posted on December 26th, 2017 by Stephanie Miera

Japan is well known for its unique and delicious food, however many people don’t know just how unique some meals can be. Fugu, or blowfish, is one of these delicacies. 

There are over 100 species of poisonous fugu world-wide, and many are sold in Japanese restaurants as a luxury dish. The poison (tetrodotoxin) is contained in the intestines, liver, andovaries of the fish, and can be up to 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. In fact, a single fugu fish has enough poison to kill 30 people. If ingested, it causes numbness around the mouth followed by paralysis, which leads to a rapid death.

Proper preparation is critical to ensure that no poison has contaminated the thin slices, typically served as sashimi. Afterwards, the chef will dispose of the poisonous parts of the fish in a sealed and locked container where it will eventually be burned. Although accidental deaths do happen from eating fugu, they are very rare in Japan today, and most occur from amateur fishers who attempt to prepare the fish for themselves.

Although many would consider this a crazy endeavour, the danger makes it all the more exciting for many people. Tokyo and Osaka contain some of the best fugu restaurants in Japan, and therefore some of most highly skilled chefs. You must have a special license to serve fugu, and the training itself takes a minimum of two years. A full fugu meal typically starts at $100 USD, but people are often willing to pay much higher for the assurance of the fugu chef license.

If you are looking for something profoundly unique and exciting to eat, check out one of the fugu restaurants in Tokyo or Osaka, and enjoy bragging to your friends about your Russian roulette Japanese eating experience!

Zatoichi – The Blind Swordsman

Posted on December 5th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

Zatoichi - The Blind Swordsman

Zatoichi – The Blind Swordsman

I am writing again about one of my favorite subjects: Japanese movies. One of my favorite Japanese movie series is Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman. A total of 26 movies were made between 1962 and 1989, and 105 television shows were made between 1974 to 1979 making it the longest-running action series in Japanese history. Oddly enough, all of the movies and television shows feature the same person playing the main role. Shintaro Katsu, the son of a Kabuki actor, was an actor, singer, producer, director and shamisen player who appeared in more than 110 movies, but became synonymous with his role of Zatoichi.

The Zatoichi movies are formula movies in the same fashion as Bond movies and Law and Order television shows. Each movie has a similar storyline and plot. Zatoichi, a traveling blind masseur and sentimental drifter is a man who lives staunchly by a code of honor and delivers justice everywhere he goes during the late Edo Period (1830s and 1840s). He meets old friends or makes new friends who are forced to suffer some kind of harm or injustice by oppressive and/or warring yakuza gangs. In the meantime, Zatoichi, through no fault of his own stumbles into harm’s way. Eventually, Zatoichi overcomes his own problems, and comes to the aid of the unfortunate and innocents. (The Japanese love a good revenge story.) And, after every sword fight, there is the signature way Zatoichi slowly sheaths his cane sword.

Because of his blindness, his other senses are more finely attuned. His keen ears, sense of smell, sensory perception and his wits in a fight, combined with his incredible lightning-fast sword skills make him a formidable adversary. In addition to his sword skills, he also has a fondness for gambling on dice games where, once again, his other senses make up for his inability to see. He wins large amounts of money by his ability to identify whether the dice have fallen on even or odd, and the ability to identify loaded or substituted dice by the difference in their sound.

A number of sequels have been released since the last Zatoichi was released. There was even one that was about Zatoichi’s daughter. Recently (2003) a remake was released with Takeshi “Beat” Kitano playing the leading role of Zatoichi (he also directed the movie). Kitano did an excellent job creating the movie, and his portrayal of Zatoichi was spot on. It won a number of Japanese Academy Awards as well as a Silver Lion Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Omoide Yokocho “Memory Lane”

Posted on December 4th, 2017 by Stephanie Miera

It’s easy to get lost in the towering skyscrapers and bright lights when walking around the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, but if you look closely enough you will find a cramped alleyway called memory lane (known as piss alley to the locals). This local hotspot started out as an illegal drinking quarter after World War 2 and quickly became one of the most popular and affordable places to eat and drink.

Located near the west exit of Shinjuku Station, entering the alleyway is almost like stepping back in time. Japanese lanterns light the tight alley as all different kinds of aromas fill the space. Each restaurant and bar could only be described as tiny, most having only about 6 seats. As you walk down the alley, you will see shopkeepers working over grills or caldrons, carefully preparing their shop’s specialty. The food here ranges from Yakitori (grilled skewers) to Nikomi (thick Japanese stew)  and one particular restaurant famous for it’s odd offerings. While food is the highlight of Piss Alley, the drinks available are the perfect pairing. The small bars are the perfect place to meet other foreigners or Japanese locals for a truly Japanese experience.

We would recommend taking the evening to tour Piss Alley, as it is easy to take your time making multiple stops at different eateries. You will likely not find an English menu, but with that comes an adventurous evening, eating things you may love before ever learning what they are.

Kaizen (改善 – “Good Change”)

Posted on September 6th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

The literal translation of Kaizen (改善) is good change, but the connotation and idea behind Kaizen is continual improvement . In business, kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries. Toyota has made Kaizen famous, but a number of other Japanese companies adopted this philosophy after World War 2. Read the full post »

Ettiquette of the Pilgrimage

Posted on August 26th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is meant to honor Kobo Daishi. Kobo Daishi, even to this day, still maintains a very high level of respect in Japan even though he died almost 1,200 years ago. (If you have visited Okunoin at Koyasan, you know he has not died, but is instead in a state of deep meditation. And you also know they still prepare meals for him.) The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrims participate in ascetic training by following the path that Kobo Daishi walked. During the pilgrimage, to honor Kobo Daishi, you should decide to follow these oaths, commandments and general etiquette procedures. Read the full post »

Nyuto Onsen – Historic and Remote Hot Springs

Posted on August 19th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

Nyuto Onsen is a collection of seven popular and remote hot spring inns, located in the Towada Hachimatai National Park in north-central Tohoku. The name Nyuto Onsen means “nipple hot spring” and comes from the suggestive shape of nearby Mount Nyuto. With a history of over 300 years, many of the springs were visited by feudal lords during the Edo Period seeking hot-spring cures. Located deep in the mountains, and surrounded by dense beech forests, you feel far removed from the rest of the world.
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Goshuincho – Red Seal Books

Posted on August 12th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

If you are looking for a unique souvenir for yourself from Japan, we recommend that you consider purchasing a “御朱印帳”, or “Red seal book”. You can use this to get unique, one-of-a-kind seals and calligraphy at temples and shrines. Or, you can bring a notebook for the many ink stamps you will find everywhere in Japan. Or even better, bring both. Read the full post »

Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage Day 2 – Temples 11 to 17

Posted on July 3rd, 2017 by Mike Roberts

The plan for today is to visit Temples 11 to 17. We include a walk from Temples 13 to 17 on many of our escorted tours, so I have walked these temples a number of times in the past. I started the day by driving to Temple 11 (Fujiidera). From my hotel across the street from the Tokushima train station, it was about a 45 minute drive.


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Posted on June 23rd, 2017 by Mike Roberts

If you have done any research on Japanese cooking, you will have heard the term “umami”. All Japanese cookbooks, cooking shows, etc. will talk about “umami”. It is said this it is what gives Japanese food its unique flavor. The term is a shortened version of “umai” (delicious in Japanese) and “mi” (taste in Japanese). Increased “umami” is the primary goal of all Japanese chefs.

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