Sounds that remind us of Japan




We lived in Japan from 2014-2017 and recently returned to Osaka for a holiday for the first time since moving back to England in 2017.  Some of the things in Osaka were still suprisingly familar to us, one being the very mundane but oh so distinctive Japanese (or maybe Osakan) sounds that we got used to while living in Japan – sounds that we had completely forgotten but recognised as soon as we heard them.

Those of you who have been to / lived in Japan will probably recognise at least some of these. Those of you who haven’t been to Japan – the below four clips give you a little window into everyday sounds of Japan.


1. Tube platform less than 100m from the apartment we used to live (Nagahoribashi station) and the tannoy announcement when a train’s approaching.



2. FamilyMart convenience store and the tune that gets played every time the front doors open.


3. Vocal shop assistants with their relatively high pitch and nasal greetings.



4. Pedestrian crossing on Midosuji road in Osaka.


In addition to the above typical Japanese sounds I’ve previously posted the sound of ‘semi’ in Japan. You can find the clip to their distinct sound here.




The biggest change we’ve noticed in Osaka



It’s been 2 ½ years since we lived in Osaka and the city is pretty similar to what it was when we moved back to England. For instance, it seems not to have aged like me and my husband have (it certainly hasn’t acquired the wrinkles we have in the past  2 1/2 years) and it is still as much fun as it ever was! But there is one important thing that has changed – a thing that would have made our life much less difficult when we lived in Osaka as Westerners who did not speak Japanese beyond the absolute necessities, like ‘Plum wine with ice, please’. You see, there is much more English around in Osaka now than there was 3 years ago, probably (at least partly) because Japan is gearing up for the 2020 Summer Olympics and needs to be more accessible for the sport-loving tourists – even the parts of the country (e.g. Osaka) that without the pressure from pleasing the international crowds (or the Olympic officials) would be happy to do its own thing and ignore any need for the use of English (unlike cities like Tokyo and Kyoto that have been more tourist-friendly for years).

But things have changed.

Many of the restaurants in Osaka now have signs outside telling customers in Japanese and in English what type of restaurant they are and dishes they serve – 3 years ago this was not the case and we felt like Livingstone exploring the unknown and unpredictable territory when trying to avoid any hostess clubs (read about those here) or restaurants specialising in serving (deadly) puffer fish (read about those here) in a quest for finding some more suitable establishments for families with small children, i.e. places where waiting staff (not hostesses) would serve things like fried noodles, octopus dumplings or even cow’s large intestines. On a positive note, we never found ourselves in a hostess club and as far as we are aware never fed the children puffer fish – but given that most of the time we did not know what we ate, I can’t be 100% sure.

In addition to restaurants being more tourist- and non-Japanese speaking resident-friendly, convenience stores have also changed many of their food labels so that less guesswork is needed than 3 years ago. For example, onigiri (rice balls) and maki rolls (rolls of rice and seaweed) labels now have English translations telling what you’ll find inside the rice ball/roll. When we moved to Japan in 2014, buying a onigiri was like buying a scratchcard, i.e. you hoping that you’ll get something that would make your day (i.e. tuna mayo, prawn mayo or pickled plum) or at least something that wouldn’t ruin it (i.e. sea bream or seaweed) as long as it wasn’t fish roe, or even worse, natto (i.e. rather slimy and stinky fermented beans). To go off on a tangent, my son tried natto this morning at our hotel breakfast (first time ever), earned a family bravery medal in the process and said, quote, ‘How can they give children this stuff?’ (which pretty much every Japanese parent does!). With due initiative he went and told the hotel staff that from hereafter he would prefer a Continental to a Japanese breakfast.



Onigiri with Japanese and English labels



Not only does onigiri now have English translations, but so do crisps – hooray! In a previous life many a evenings were ruined when I walked home (blissfully unaware) that I was carrying a bag of seaweed or scallop flavoured crisps instead of ready salted.


Lastly, convenience store and department store staff nowadays have much better English skills than they did 3 years ago and many of them spontaneously interact with foreign customers in English. And even if I want to practice my poor Japanese by telling the cashier that I don’t want a carrier bag, fork and chopsticks with my noodle salad, they now respond in English!




To round off, Osaka is pretty similar as it was in 2017 when we moved back to England, except for the annoyance of any Japanese language enthusiasts who would like to reap the rewards of their hard work of learning Japanese or a non-Japanese speaker Livingstone wannabe.




Not Shinsaibashi shopping street with its eateries and drinkeries but a temple and its cherry blossom not 800m away

Before our trip to Osaka, our daughter could not remember that much about our life in Osaka – only some images of her favourite park and restaurants, her school and school friends, and some key Osaka landmarks – after all she was 2 ½ years old when we moved to Osaka and 5 when we moved back to England.

But one additional thing that she does remember is many people calling her Kawaii (‘cute’) when she with her blond hair but somewhat Asian facial features frolicked around the busy Osaka streets.

Before we arrived in Osaka this time, she was a bit worried that now that she is 7, she would no longer be called kawaii. In my eyes, this would not be the end of the world really. I mean, her passion in life is not beauty pageants, but gymnastics, reading and pugs and she wants to become a vet or an archaeologist and in the case of the latter find something super old and exciting, which she says she wants to bury with me when I die (to which I say that there is no point in burying it with me if she’s just dug it up, but the idea is rather sweet in the context of a 7 year old already worrying about her mother dying one day). But because her vivid memories of people smiling at her, calling her kawaii, taking her photo and talking to her in Japanese on a daily basis, and those memories being one of the only handful of things that she does remember, for her, kawaii is an important association with Osaka.


But she didn’t need to worry. The first night back in Osaka, when we walked through the busy Shinsaibashi area with party goers traipsing around finding their way to their alcohol filled destination while the yakuza (Japanese mafia) men in their black suits, earpieces and stern faces stood on every street corner keeping an eye on the people coming and going to make sure there wasn’t any drunken monkeying around going on (and that hostesses were bringing enough men into hostess clubs and other yakuza business was taking place as per protocol) we walked past the yakuza bouncers, they looked at her and with great big smiles on their faces exclaimed kawaii and high-fived her.

When we come back to Osaka next time, maybe the thing my daughter will remember is the high fives from the yakuza!

It’s been a long time



Greetings from Osaka, Japan’s second city with a population of 3-6 million (depending on how you calculate it) known for its amazing food and friendly people with a good sense of humour.

We are back in Osaka (after having lived back home in England for 2 ½ years) but feel like we never left – the intricate knowledge about Osaka that we had forgotten we had but which we had retained for the time away from Japan is something we didn’t expect.

So us walking around our old neighbourhood of Shinsaibashi on our arrival, felt like it was only yesterday when we were rushing the kids through Shinsaibashi to take the super busy Midosuji commuter tube to their school or my husband and I spending a date night in one of the standing sake bars in the back alleys of the area (where no tourists ever found their way). Apart from a couple of refurbished restaurants and new apartment blocks our old neighbourhood looks exactly as it did 2 ½ years ago when we moved back to England. And so, we can still navigate the crisscross of the multitude of busy Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori-Nipponbashi streets, all of which look exactly the same (hundreds of bars, cafes, restaurants and night clubs) – a kind of a maze, which result in tourists (and many locals alike) getting lost in the area or being disappointed after seeing a restaurant they like the look of but not walking in there and then, and consequently never finding it again. But us, once upon a time having lived in the area for 2 years meant that we can still navigate the tricky streets as accurately as a bloodhound can trace the bank robber by the sweaty handkerchief they had dropped at the crime scene.

Photos below illustrate how similar the roads look in the area. Photos are taken during the day (when the area sleeps).


Street A


Street B



Street C


As soon as we arrived in Osaka, the children insisted that we go to our old local inexpensive Chinese fast food restaurant which they used to call, ‘the chicken soup place’, and where we used to go when we couldn’t be bothered to cook (i.e. relatively often!). So we go into this very familiar place, sit down, look through the same old menu and are about to order the same old set menu trays that we always ordered with chicken soup (hence the name), dumplings, fried meat/seafood, noodle soup and rice but get a bit emotional when the waiter, a man maybe in his early 30s who I can still remember but who we never talked to before walks over and before we can place our order says: It’s been a long time.

That moment, we couldn’t have felt more at home.


‘Chicken soup’ place