If you have been watching sports events in the past several years, you are quite familiar with the culture of Japan. We have all seen Japanese players cleaning their dressing rooms and hotel rooms after checking out. Japanese people are clean, tidy, well-mannered, polite, and generally nice. What are some of the Japanese cultural facts that you know?
The culture of Japan has changed in the past millennia, going from the prehistoric period to the contemporary modern culture. Japanese culture has influences from Asia and other regions in the world.
The Chinese dynasty had a huge influence on Japan as well. These two countries have been enemies and friends over the years. You can notice Chinese influence in many areas. For example, one of the scripts for writing in the Japanese language is the Chinese character kanji. China is also the reason why Japan is called the Land of the Rising Sun.
The name comes from Imperial correspondence with the Chinese Sui Dynasty referring to Japan’s eastern position relative to China.
Japan opened its ports to the Western world some 150 years ago. Before that, the country spent centuries in isolation from the Western world. Today, many things still mystify us.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of Japanese cultural facts.
- 1 Omiyage Souvenirs
- 2 Onsen Etiquette
- 3 Christmas, The Romantic Holiday
- 4 Understanding Shoe Cues
- 5 Japanese Women Blacking Their Teeth
- 6 Don’t Drink And Walk
- 7 Baseball Is A Popular Sport
- 8 Bowing
- 9 Bathroom Slippers
- 10 Horse Meat
- 11 The Positions Of Chopstick
- 12 Eating Sushi
- 13 The First Geisha Were Men
- 14 Pour A Drink For A Friend
- 15 Clap While Praying
- 16 Eating Alone Is Fine
- 17 Slurping Is A Compliment
- 18 How To Take Care Of Bonsai
- 19 Morning Exercise
- 20 Sitting Seiza
When you think of omiyage, you think of souvenirs. That is the English translation of the world. But they are more than that. Unlike souvenirs, omiyage is something people bring back for their friends and co-workers after a trip.
They are usually in the form of specialty food from different regions packaged in brightly colored boxes. In Japan, bringing omiyage after a trip is an expectation, not just a nice gesture.
Onsens are hot spring baths. Visitors are required to bathe naked. Traditional onsens do not allow swimsuits. If you want to enter, you have to shower thoroughly before entering the baths.
Visitors leave clothes and large towels in the locker room and then take a small towel with them to the bathing area. Because there is not a designated place for putting the small towel, visitors often put it on their heads.
Christmas, The Romantic Holiday
Only 2 percent of the Japanese population are Christian. So, Christmas is more of a novelty in Japan, not a religious holiday. It is not celebrated in the same way as it is in the Western world.
Yes, light displays and Christmas tree is a common sight. But most people celebrate on Christmas Eve, not the day itself. Japanese people consider it to be more of a date night, similar to Valentine’s Day. Couples go out for a fancy dinner and exchange romantic gifts.
Understanding Shoe Cues
In Japan, it is polite to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. But what to do when you enter buildings like temples, shrines, and restaurants? Do not worry, people in Japan have figured it out. There are cues you can look for.
For example, if slippers are set around the entrance, it is a clear indication that you should take your outdoor shoes off and put on the slippers.
Another clue is if the floor is raised at the entrance, guests should take their shoes off in the doorway before stepping inside.
Japanese Women Blacking Their Teeth
This is a Japanese tradition that some women follow to this day. For centuries, tooth blackening was a common practice. The Japanese word is ohaguro, and it was common among married women and geishas.
This practice helped protect the teeth against decay and dental issues. But it was also considered attractive. While Western culture praises perfectly white teeth, Japanese women considered black teeth attractive.
It was banned in the 19th century, as Japan tried to modernize its world and culture and make it more appealing to Western people.
Don’t Drink And Walk
Do you know the saying do not drink and drive? Well, in Japan, it is rude to eat and drink while walking. In Western countries, it is a common sight to see someone eating chips or drinking coffee while walking.
Well, that is not happening in Japan. Japanese people consider it poor manners to eat or drink while walking. It is considered rude. So, what do people do? Well, they buy food or drink from a vending machine on the street and consume it while standing beside the machine. This is to avoid walking with food and beverage.
Baseball Is A Popular Sport
Sumo is the national sport in Japan. But you will be surprised that baseball is quite popular as well. It is the most-watched and played sport in Japan. It gained huge popularity thanks to the American presence in Japan following World War II.
There are two professional baseball leagues in Japan. Countless schools and universities around the country have their team as well.
The Japanese word is ojigi. It is the traditional form of greeting in Japan. Bowing can also be used to express gratitude, congratulations, or apology. During a casual daily situation, a simple bow is a nod of the head.
Yet, a longer and deeper bow is more respectful and shows a formal apology or sincere thanks. Foreigners are not required to bow, it is normal and acceptable for them to shake hands in Japan. Yet, if you want to show your respect, do the Japanese bow.
We talked before about how there are cues for shoes in buildings around Japan. It is customary to change your outdoor shoes for slippers when you visit someone’s home. But it doesn’t stop there. When you want to go to the bathroom, you have to change your slippers again.
Cleanliness is an integral part of Japanese culture. Once you leave the bathroom, change to the regular slippers.
Here is a fun Japanese culture fact for you. Horse meat has been common in Japanese cuisine since the late 16th century. In the 1960s, cooking horse meat increased. The role of horses in agriculture and transport diminished, so Japanese people found a new purpose.
You can find Japanese raw horse meat in restaurants, known as basashi.
The Positions Of Chopstick
Chopsticks are popular in China and Japan, and other Asian countries. When you are out in Japan dining, it is important to pay attention to the position of the chopsticks. Never stick your chopsticks into your food to rest when you are not eating.
This resembles a ceremony performed during funerals and it is considered a bad omen. It is also taboo to share food with others by passing it from chopstick to chopstick.
If you want to share food, simply use your chopsticks to place it on the other person’s plate.
Sushi is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. But it is also loved around the globe. This is why you need to understand Japanese culture facts, you might be eating sushi the wrong way.
The traditional way to eat maki sushi and nigiri sushi is with the fingers. Sashimi sushi is eaten with chopsticks.
When you dip sushi in soy sauce, only the fish should touch the sauce. Rice soaks up too much sauce, so Japanese people avoid this.
The First Geisha Were Men
Did you know that geisha means “person of the arts”? And that the first geisha were men? They advised feudal lords in addition to entertaining the court with artistic performances and stories.
Female geisha began entertaining in the late 18th century. They were originally known as onna geisha which translates to a woman artist.
How is that for Japanese culture facts?
Pour A Drink For A Friend
In Japan, everyone pours for each other. It is considered impolite to pour your own drink at a dinner party. So, pour everyone else’s drink and then wait for someone to pour yours.
This is a common practice when Japanese citizens share a bottle of sake or some other drink. People refill each other’s glasses.
This also helps to show you do not want to drink anymore. If you want to stop drinking, simply leave your glass full.
Clap While Praying
Speaking about interesting facts about Japanese culture, praying at shrines involves clapping. You bow, offer small change, bow deeply twice, ring the bell to tell the gods you are here, and then you clap twice before you pray and thank the gods.
Eating Alone Is Fine
Unlike Western culture where dining alone is not a common practice, you can notice many people doing it in the Eastern country. Sitting at the bar alone and eating Japanese food is a common practice.
Slurping Is A Compliment
This might come as a shock to Western people. But slurping noodles or soups while eating is acceptable in Japan. It is actually encouraged.
Slurping is a sign that the food is delicious. It is considered a compliment to the cook. The best way to appreciate the flavor of noodles is to eat them quickly while they are hot.
How To Take Care Of Bonsai
There is a proper way to appreciate bonsai. This potted miniature tree is artistically styled. To properly appreciate the visual appeal of the bonsai tree, you should try to imagine it as being small as you look at the tree.
If you have seen the movie Gung Ho with Michael Keaton, you know that it is part of Japanese culture to work out in the morning. It is not a Japanese movie, but the Hollywood movie painted a great picture of Japanese workers.
Health is an important part of Japanese culture. The tradition of morning exercise reflects that. Emperor Hirohito introduced the Rajio Taiso, a radio exercise program broadcasting since 1928.
It plays every morning for 10 minutes.
Seiza means sitting with your legs folded underneath you. It is a traditional sitting in Japanese culture on tatami floors.
During formal occasions, sitting seiza is considered appropriate and respectful. Yes, it is a difficult position for the average person to hold. You can do what older Japanese people do. They sit with their legs in front of them, another acceptable form of sitting.