ゼクシィ (Zexy): A Good Start to Finding Your Venue – A Wedding Planning in Japan Adventure

So I don’t know if you know, but me and my wonderful boyfriend, Yuta, have been engaged since April of this year, 2018, and ’tis the season to start making wedding plans…

One word: EXCITE AF

Another word: A BIT STRESSED AF

My initial twenty-two-year-old plan of eloping slowly becoming no longer an option (wah wah waaah), my current plan is now to have two weddings: one in the US for my family and one in Japan for his family. But when it came to the Japanese wedding, I was a bit at a loss to say the least. At first, this was because I didn’t know what my options were there at all.

AKA: What venues do they have available in the Tokyo area (where most of my guests live)? How much do they typically cost? Would the venue allow a ceremony? How many people are typically allowed in smaller, budget-friendly Japanese venues?

It was through asking friends and getting advice that I discovered that Japanese weddings nowadays can be pretty much the same as US ones. It was also by asking around and doing more research on my own that nice weddings themselves cost quite the pretty penny out there. We’re talking Cinderella Tokyo Disney Castle Wedding at ¥7,700,000 for 50 guests. And that’s not including park tickets for guests. Salty.

Believe it or not, one of the most popular spots for wedding ceremonies and receptions is Hawaii or OUTSIDE Japan, since many younger couples can’t afford the dream wedding in Japan. As a matter of fact, when Yuta had done his rounds with a few wedding planners out in Osaka, both had recommended Hawaii; one even claimed they had no other options BUT Hawaii, which is interesting.

So, let’s talk venue-hunting. Recommendation for getting started Número Uno: zexy.net

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ゼクシィ Zexy (https://zexy.net/)

To start with, Zexy’s search tool is what I used to find some of my best potential venues. I’ve also used Minna no Wedding, another popular place to get personal reviews, but Zexy has a lot more information available on each venue, which is great for quick comparisons.

There are a ton of resources and searches available on this website that can help you find dresses, flowers, photographer, the works, and even ceremonies abroad, but I’ll leave the exploration up to you and just walk you through one of the searches I did, which was the…

二次会 (reception) search

I’m a girl of simple needs. After talking things over with Yuta, we decided on a 二次会 (nijikai  = reception) or 1.5次会 (ittengojikai = more informal reception); an informal, restaurant reception only that met these criteria:

  1. Gotta be in Tokyo (where a majority of my guests live)
  2. Gotta be buffet-styled (so people have the chance to mingle and not just sit and eat, which is common traditional Japanese wedding reception style – boring, I know)
  3. Gotta have speakers for my video game music playlists
  4. Gotta have cake (EDIBLE cake. Old school Japanese weddings have a giant, fake cake that only has a tiny edible portion that the bride and groom get to cut. Why? I don’t know.)
  5. Gotta be photogenic and fun
  6. Gotta be something within my budget (which Zexy does offer, but it takes looking)

Off to Zexy, I searched. First, under the 二次会 (reception) link, choose your エリア (area) you want to search for in Japan. I chose 青山・表参道・渋谷 (Aoyama, Omote-sando, and Shibuya) all in Tokyo, and hit 検索 (search).

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Because this initial search doesn’t actually show you as many results, hit the small, pink button that says “検索条件を変更する” (change search conditions).

After making my changes, here’s what my advanced search looked like:

エリア (area): I included 埼玉県 (Saitama), 千葉県 (Chiba), 東京都 (Tokyo), and 神奈川県 (Kanagawa), just to see what else comes up.

I also checked these bad boys off my こだわり (points) list:

  • ビュッフェ形式  (buffet)
  • ケーキオーダー (cake)
  • マイク・音響 (microphone/sound)
  • BGM手配 (background music)
  • ゲーム各種手配  (gaming arrangements)

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This time, my advanced search brought me 72 results. After you click on one that interests you, (for this example, I chose “Omote-sando Café”, which looks lovely), scroll down to see the こだわりデータ (the checklist of points included at this venue), and scroll down further to see general prices and plans.

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For the life of me, I haven’t found a link to the venues’ actual websites, but nothing DuckDuckGo (or Google) can’t find. Let copy/paste be your friend.

Then bookmark what looks good and come back to it later once you’ve begun the narrowing-down process. Some other important keywords I decided to narrow down later in my search were ゲスト人数 (number of guests) and the highly-important 予算 (budget).

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Zexy Magazine

Zexy is first and foremost a wedding magazine, which showcases lots of ideas and lots of expensive venues for you to choose from. The magazines are great, but again; they’re wedding magazines. AKA Zexy’s general market is for the wealthy, but that aside, the magazines are great to thumb through for ideas and for finding places you would like to visit and/or get tastings from. These magazines can be bought at any bookstore or convenience store (Seven Eleven, FamilyMart, Lawson, etc.) for about ¥500. Yuta found one at his local Tsutaya shoten, too, which you can find pretty much anywhere.

A quick warning about tastings, though, is that as much as I would recommend getting as many tastings done as you can (ahem free food, people), the tasting can last up to three hours, because of marketing staff going through options and whatnot. It’s all formality, but hey, free food.

Aaaaanyways, that’s my lowdown for getting a start on your international wedding in Japan! I may be keeping you all up-to-date as I discover more and get further along in my planning, but for now, while it’s still in its early stages, I’d like to recommend you a good first place to start.

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How to Make Reservations at Ikebukuro’s Swallowtail Butler Cafe

Ikebukuro is my bae of Japan, seriously. Ladies of the interwebs that are interested in being treated like a lady, trying out some delicious teas, or just want to ogle the boys (let’s be real), then this is my recommendation for you.

One thing that really stood out for me with Swallowtail is its relaxed, very comfortable environment. Bit of back story. When my sisters came to visit me in Japan, I wanted to take them someplace where they could experience luxury and calm (in the busy city of Tokyo) and that would give them the culture shock of a lifetime (an experience that they – even today – can recall in STRONG deets).

Back then, I knew that host clubs are typically more accessible, but I also know that they are sometimes dangerous, expensive, and filled with pushy salesman that make you buy lots of alcohol. Just a heads-up for those staying in Tokyo, red-light district Kabukicho Shinjuku, in particular, is notorious for these sort of host club establishments. Avoid, (or visit, if you’re about that kinda life) at your own risk.

To avoid the pushy salesmen and sketch neighborhoods (though Ikebukuro does have its share; it’s a metropolitan city, after all), I decided to give Swallowtail a shot by myself, and if I was happy with the experience, I’d take my sisters with. Which I’m glad I did. And now, I’m encouraging you adventurous ladies to do the same.

For me (especially back when my Japanese was not at the level it is now), making reservations was a little tricky. When making up this tutorial for y’all, I noticed that their website has changed a bit (even an English Guidance page has been added since then!), but the reservation process hasn’t changed. I’m here to walk you step-by-step to get you through those doors and into a comfortable seat, where a butler can then tend to your tea and cakey needs.

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Unlike the infamous maid cafes of Akihabara, you can’t usually just walk into a butler cafe like Swallowtail without a reservation. Well, you can, if the time schedule has a vacancy. Which you can check near their front door, where they have a schedule of their business hours, open, and reserved slots.

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The Reservation Process

1. Check out their HP (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/) Reservations are only made online, not through phone.

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2. Click 予約 (reserve) on the top-right corner (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/reserve/)

3. Click on 予約フォームへ進む (continue to reservation form)

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4. Choose your preferred time and date. For this example, I chose 09/04 10:55, 3-4 名様(customers, people attending)

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5. Enter your Email address, Number of people, and Hit the 確認 (confirm) button

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6. Check your inbox for an email from this address “webmaster@butlers-cafe.jp”. Luckily, for non-Japanese readers, they’ve added English instructions to their emails. Do as the instructions indicate and follow the link to get to part 2 of registration.

7. Aaaaand back to Japanese-only stuff. Confirm your email address here.

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8. Fill out your information:

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  • A. Name (must be typed in Japanese characters, katakana or hiragana is okay)
  • B. Furigana (name again in hiragana)
  • C. What you would like to be called by your butler. Options for women: お嬢様 ojou-sama (lady, younger), 奥様 okusama (lady, older), options for men: 旦那様 danna-sama (sir, older), お坊ちゃま obocchama (young sir)
  • D. When it’s time to leave, what kind of send-off phrase do you want your butler to say to you (Options: おまかせ Omakase (Leave it to them.) お出掛けのお時間でございます。(It’s time to go out now.) ご出発のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your departure.) 乗馬のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your horse riding.)
  • E. Phone number. You can use your own number, it doesn’t have to be Japanese.
  • F. This section is if you have a members card. If you do (I do, they’re free, use like a point card, and make for a cute souvenir), you may enter your card number here, not including the front zeros. If no card, leave this whole section blank.
  • G. Are you ordering an anniversary cake or need a cooler bag for the cake? Choose なし (no) or あり (yes)

9. When done, hit 送信 (send).

10. When you get to this screen, check your inbox again to receive your final confirmation email.

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Aaaand you done, girl! Just show up on time, be somewhat nicely dressed, and enjoy your time there.

This blog post is really just meant to show you how to reserve a time slot, but I figured I’d also give you a heads-up about what to expect while you’re there, since the staff does not speak English there, and they do have a process and a couple house rules.

  • Once you arrive, you may be asked to sit and wait on a bench. First, an older gentleman (the owner) will greet you, take your coat and purse for you, if you’d like, and then your butler will introduce himself and show you to your table.
  • Your butler will take his time with you to introduce you to the items on the menu (if you don’t understand Japanese, you guessed it; just smile and nod). Afterwards, he’ll walk away.
  • When you want his attention, ring the bell. You will be asked to ring the bell for two other occasions, too: when you want him to fill up your water or tea (you don’t do this yourself, he’ll do everything for you), and when you want to go to the bathroom.
  • You don’t leave the table by yourself. You ring the bell, he escorts you to the bathroom, waits until you’re done with your business (or if he is busy and can’t, another butler may wait instead) and then escort you back to your table.
  • When it’s time to leave, your butler will lead you back down the hall, collect your things, and the owner may also send you off with a farewell greeting, too.
  • Another predictable house rule, no picture-taking allowed inside.
  • Also, quick tip! If you’re interested in purchasing some of the teas or sweets or some cute souvenirs from across the street, you can do that at the Swallowtail gift shop, where the cashier is also one of Swallowtail’s own butlers! Very nice marketing touch.

Nagasaki Must-Sees – I Got 6 Recommendations For Ya

Hey, squad-fam! I’ve been watching a few historical biographies on people who have promoted peace post World War II. (In particular, NHK’s “Houses for Peace” video on Floyd Schmoe is absolutely heartwarming and worth the read.) So this time, I went through some old pictures of when my host family graciously took me on a trip to Nagasaki, and I figured I’d dedicate this blog post to Nagasaki; things to see and do in this historic, beautiful city.

1. Huis Ten Bosch
Huis Ten Bosch is a huge amusement park, but first and foremost, rather than go for the rides and amusements, I’d say it’s well worth the visit to see the massive tulips gardens and Dutch-inspired landscaping when the season is right. When I visited, I ate lots of castella cake (famous to Nagasaki), saw some performers and magicians, and saw some and went to a bunch of different events, too. At the time, they were doing a One Piece special, which is an anime that’s apparently still very popular in Japan.

2. Glover Garden
After Huis Ten Bosch, we said goodbye to Sasebo and then headed to Nagasaki city to do more sightseeing. The first thing we checked out was Glover Garden. Glover Garden is dedicated to Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant and shipbuilder. The architecture there was heavily inspired by the West, and it almost made me feel nostalgic looking around at the different residences-turned-museum.

Nagasaki’s really cool in the way that it became home to one of Japan’s first ports that accepted imports and exports from other countries. And so it was really neat to see “Japan’s first bowling alley” or “Japan’s first tennis court” and other influences that would not have occurred if Japan hadn’t opened it’s doors when Commodore Perry made them in the 1800’s.

3. Oura Roman Catholic Church
Another interesting side-trip I requested we make was to Nagasaki’s Oura Roman Catholic Church, Japan’s oldest church and first western-styled building built shortly after the Nagasaki port was opened. There’s not a whole lot to say, other than it was definitely worth the visit, and absolutely beautiful! (Note: Pictures were not allowed inside the building, so unfortunately, the only thing I can provide is this official link: https://nagasaki-oura-church.jp/

4. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum was a very surreal, yet very concrete and almost oppressive experience. I took my time here, reading, learning, and ultimately failing to even fathom such destruction and pain caused by war. The photos and videos were informative but very painful to see (could not stomach the medical videos of radioactivity treatment).

5. Peace Park
I said many prayers to the victims and for peace, and then me and my host family headed to the beautiful Peace Park to get eased and to visit the infamous Peace Park statue. The statue’s pose, I learned, has meaning: the right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons, the left hand symbolizes eternal peace, the mild faces symbolizes grace and prayer for the victims, and the folded leg and extended left leg symbolize meditation and the initiative to stand up and help other people of the world.

When I had gone to Nagasaki, spring was in full swing; the cherry blossoms were in full bloom there, so I got to take some lovely pics of my first Spring in Japan! I learned that Nagasaki is a generally rainy place, so a lot of my pictures were taken in the rain, too. :>

6. Dejima
Though this place isn’t as glamorous as the other five things I’ve listed above, for history buffs, I’d recommend Dejima since it was one of the only ports open that exchanged trade to other countries back during the Edo Period of Japan (roughly 1600s – 1800s).

Maybe this is all conjecture, but when you think about it, Japan’s still a baby country when it comes to globalization, given the fact that it’s only had its doors open to foreigners these past 400-ish years. Though a lot has changed since then, Dejima, I felt, has preserved a lot of its old-school charm.

3 Places Worth Chillin’ At in Kamakura

I’ve noticed that the Kanagawa prefecture holds some of my favorite chill places in Japan so far. It’s close to the ocean, so the atmosphere is fantastic and it usually smells pretty nice, too… Unless you’re on a crowded train on your way to Kamakura. Then it doesn’t smell that good. 😀

So yes, it was very crowded! But like Danielles do, I took a walk off the beaten paths, while also getting a lot of temple/shrine seeing along the way.

1) Hansobo (Chill Level = SUUUUPER Chill)
First I stopped by Kenchoji, one of Japan’s five big Zen temples started by the Hojo clan. This temple was absolutely beautiful and included a garden tour and indoor tour to boot. But what really stood out for me was nearing the end of the temple to Hansobo, a small shrine tucked up in the mountains. The forest mountains and pathways were all lined up with trees, and the steps to get to the top were very steep, proving to be quite the trek. But the view and peacefulness made it all worth it.

2) Tsurugaoka-Hachimganu (Chill Level = Only Somewhat Chill)
Then it was back down and through Kenchoji to my next temple, Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu. This temple seemed to be the tourist’s favorite, as it was packed with people. As in, there were waiting lines to climb up the steps to the temple, and there were lines to get into the temple, and if you wanted to go into the museum part, you’d have to stand in another line for that. No thank you, said Danielle, and so she took her camera and wandered off someplace else.

BUT! The surrounding area to this temple was very nice and proved to be excellent for walking around and taking in your own sights. Another cool thing about this temple was – with people, comes food – all the candy and sweet stalls they had. I got myself a strawberry candy before taking off.

3) Kotokuin Great Buddha (Pretty Chill)
I walked around the shopping streets of Kamakura for a while (always gotta buy a souvenir) before making my way to Kamakura’s Kotokuin Great Buddha. I guess a first-time visitor to Kamakura can’t NOT visit this statue. It was – again – very packed with people (guess I picked a popular sight-seeing day), but again, once you got out to the gardens, bought your charms, and took your pictures with the statue, it really became a nice place to relax.

Next time I get the chance to visit Kamakura (or Kanagawa, at least), I’d love to see the summertime hydrangeas. I’m told that if I go around the rainy season, a lot of the temples there have really pretty hydrangeas in bloom. And I am all about that kinda life.

Lake Chuzenjiko and Nikko

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06/20/2015

One of my most memorable “hitori tabi” (lone travel) during the last few weeks of my year-long internship at LEX was when I decided to take a long-anticipated trip to Lake Chuzenji and Nikko in the Tochigi Prefecture.

Let me just say, it is definitely a trip worth taking, if you’re ever in the Tokyo-area and want a close-enough trip off the beaten path. 10/10 TRUE GORGEOUSNESS.

Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine is the infamous mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that lasted for over 250 years in Japan. It was definitely a lavish sort of shrine; highly detailed in design, colorful, and really covered a lot of ground. I did quite a bit of walking around there, and I have a feeling that I still didn’t explore everything the shrine had to offer 100%.

Mainly because Danielle wanted to check out a different part of the Toshigi Prefecture.

Predictably, Danielle thought the popular Toshogu Shrine was beautiful, and the trip to Nikko was definitely well worth it. But she thought the less-populated Chuzenjiko was prettier. :>

I love a harbor town, and the smells and sounds of water. Had fun relaxing and watching the sunset at the lake. Though you can’t really see the sunset in Japan, what with the mountains and buildings blocking the sky (not as open as it is back at home in the USA). But I felt right at home at Chuzenji.

I heard that Nikko even has a fireworks event for the summertime, which, I’ll bet, is absolutely gorgeous. Again, if you’re in the area, check it, but that’s a trip I have yet to take. BUCKETLIST.

SunBretta Bakery: A Recommendation

One of the most dangerous places in Japan: The Bakery. D8 *Dun dun DUUUN*

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Seriously, the transportation lifestyle out here can be a lot to get used to. Taking the train, taxi, bus, and WALKING. To me, walking means window shopping, which means walking past bakeries, or in my case, it means walking INTO bakeries. Which is incredibly dangerous for my wallet.

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My local host mama introduced me to a bakery in Yachiyo, Chiba called “SunBretta”, and it’s cool because they also serve you free coffee or tea if you buy their bread. When I have time on my hands and have a hankering to go buy some bread at a cute local shop, I walk from my home to SunBretta to get those cravings satisfied. 🙂

In case you can’t tell, I love bread. And I love trying new things. For this blog post, I thought I’d show you my latest baked favorites.

Creme Pan (Pan = bread)

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Anpan (Anko = red bean paste)

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Chocopan (as close to a pain au chocolat I can get out here)

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Pizza (though it tastes nothing like the deep-dish wonders back in Chicago)

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and Melon Pan

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Before coming to Japan, I’d only seen this at a handful of Asian supermarkets out by Chicago. Back then, I never actually tried melon pan before; I’d always went for the fruit pastries, personally. But I had to give it a shot. And that was a bad move, because I’m now hooked. It’s sooo good.

God, I miss the walking.

Because I was curious, I looked up how it was made. For your viewing pleasure: https://cookpad.com/recipe/

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By the way, Cookpad occasionally has a lot of pretty decent recipes. I’ve tried a recipe for dango and dashi before, and they both turned out well (which may say a lot). Although I did guesstimate a bit with some of the measuring units like liters, grams, oosaji (large spoon), and kosaji (small spoon).

But now I say “occasionally” with purpose. The only downsides to Cookpad means that ANYONE can post to it. Meaning, that you can get a TON of recipes for mug-brownies, but only A FEW of them actually work out. Which means depending on the time you allot to recipe-finding online, you may need to do a lot of sifting. I’m told there is a subscription available for getting those good, monthly recipes, but I don’t actually know a willing individual who has utilized this service as of yet.

Fatal Frame III: A Cultural Journey

Well, here it is. I hereby dedicate this blog post to my favorite pass time: video games. And three cool things I didn’t know about traditional Japanese culture until I played Fatal Frame in Japan.

Let me tell you a story (and I’ll try to redeem myself in the process).

So shortly after coming to Japan, I bought me the Japanese version of one of my all-time favorite horror video games, Fatal Frame III (or Zero Shisei no Koe in Japanese). Found a copy for about 2500en at a Bookoff in Akihabara. I might dedicate another blog post to game shopping in Japan, but at a later date.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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I soon learned that buying a Japanese PS2 would be a lot less accommodating on my wallet. Unlike the States, where you can find a cheap PS2 for about $20 or less at a pawn shop, typically, the older the console, the more rare – and thus, expensive – it seems to become here in Japan. Which is a major bugger.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #1: HIIRAGI

There’s a festival that passed in February called Setsubun. On the 3rd of February, there is a decoration that some people use called hiiragi iwashi (holly leaves and sardine heads) on their doorways, so that bad spirits won’t enter. The bad spirits are said to dislike the smell of sardines, and also fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points of the holly leaves. Essentially, holly in Japan is like a good luck charm and means protection.

On one important room in this game (perhaps some of you remember the room where you first meet the Woman Brushing?), there are three special holly patterns on the doorframe that could mean that they don’t want bad luck in (or in this game’s case, they didn’t want any unwanted people to enter). Excellent little touch for a room that’s warning you about the boss battle to come.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #2: IRORI

The entire map you travel around in this game is traditional Japanese-esque (tatami rooms, shouji, futon rooms, and that sort of thing), but in one room in particular, we have the hearth room (irori).

As we all know, the hearth has many uses, such as cooking, heating water, lighting and heating the room, drying clothes, etc. But the traditional Japanese irori always has a hollow bamboo pole hanging from the ceiling that has a metal rod or chain with a hook at the end, as well as a lever that lets you regulate the height of the hook and how close your pot is to the fire.

Interesting thing about the lever, though, is that it’s almost always in the form of a fish. Why is that? The fish, a water creature, means protection against fire, accidents, or house fires. Fish also have no eyelids and are thought to never sleep, thus giving you around-the-clock protection. In Fatal Frame, though, the around-the-clock protection didn’t help to stop one particular victim’s fate they met in that room.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #3: KOBUN – OLD (OBSOLETE) JAPANESE TEXT

Occasionally, during your travels, your character can find notes or journals from times long ago. And those journals are all written in old-time Japanese, which obviously you don’t see in the English version of the game.

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For instance,

This: 起こしてしま is read like this: 起こしてしま
This: 見てると is read like this: 見てると
This: 帰てこない is read like this: 帰てこない
And this: 伝はつる is read like this: 伝わっている

I’m told that Japanese grade schoolers, high schoolers, and even some college students don’t know how to read these correctly. I’ve watched some Japanese gamers on Youtube pass up the text sometimes, saying they can’t read it. Even the kanji varied back then. It would be a dream come true to be able to translate Japanese language of this caliber.

As I try to come up with a good conclusion to this post (I suck at it, in case you haven’t noticed), I will say that after writing this, I’ve really come to realize how much I miss Fatal Frame III. I should visit the Manor of Sleep again sometime soon. And for all those looking for an insanely good Japanese horror adventure, I hope to see you there.