Japanese Culture

Japanese Culture

Home to one of the most deep-rooted cultures in the East Asia, Japan is simply unique in all aspects of its custom and tradition. Japanese culture has one foot in the west, embracing anything that will add to its multifaceted character. And at its core, the country has a firm ground made up of soul-soothing customs, a deep respect for tradition, and countless cultural ceremonies. The main cultural values of Japan involve pride and honor, collectivism, and a strong sense of harmony.

The diverse land of Japan is home to a number of cultural elements that have quite a cinematic quality. Sumo, the national sport of Japan, goes back hundreds of years and symbolizes the Shinto influence in Japanese culture with its rituals. Another priceless feature is the Geisha tradition, highlighting the best of traditional Japanese art, dance, and music. The history of Japan is gilded with heroic stories, a majority of which are centered around the legendary Samurai. It is not only the warrior class but also a philosophy governing the mind, the body, and the soul.

Cultural life in Japan varies greatly in the cities and the luminous countryside. Citylife is fast, structured, and exhilarating, while a more serene way of living is prevalent in the rural areas, blended with a deeper sense of religion and nature. The best way to experience Japanese traditions is a visit to the Ryokan, local-style inns, or the iconic Japanese gardens brimming with hot springs. In the bustling cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, a fusion of authentic Japanese culture and modern lifestyles await.

Japanese culture
Japanese culture

Eating & Drinking

“While typical Japanese food is often reduced to a few dishes such as sushi and ramen, a fresh onlooker to Japan’s food scene is awe-struck by the subtle nuances and tasteful nodes it harbors.”

Traditional Japanese cuisine, or as locals call it, Washoku, resembles a layered cake with the local culinary heritage at the base and a variety of foreign influences on the top. Chinese cuisine is the strongest, having introduced iconic dishes like gyoza and ramen. But at heart, the traditional food of Japan revolves around seasonal ingredients like rice, fish, and regional vegetables. Dashi, the Japanese broth, is the basis of most dishes, while soy sauce is a popular flavoring. Recognized as an intangible heritage by UNESCO, Japanese cuisine is highly versatile and unimaginably satisfying.

The display and eating of food in Japanese culture are very important. Food is often presented in a petty style, in divided trays with different compartments for each dish. A typical dish consists of one soup and three sides, and rice comes in a small bowl. If you wish to eat like a local, use chopsticks for the chunks of food in your soup and drink the rest of it right from the bowl. Bear in mind that most dishes look very similar, and most look like ramen. But each is unique in flavor, so never hesitate to try. Famous Japanese foods to try are Champon, a seasonal variety of ramen, the delicious pufferfish dish Fugu, and some steamy Miso soup. There are a variety of stuffed dumplings that are also Japanese to the bone, which make great quick bites as you wander around the cities.

Inseparable from a Japanese culinary experience, the traditional drinks of the country are too good to pass up. Matcha is a cultural ritual on its own, a ceremony that you should live, observe and learn about as much as possible. And there is the iconic sake, the strong rice wine liquor that tantalizes with its balance of flavors.

Unique Crafts & Shopping

The shopping scene in Japan can be divided into two: A more traditional and authentic experience with centuries-old local handcrafts, and the most energetic market of the modern commercial industry. Japanese crafts have long been centered around local products such as silk, rice paper, tea, and many more. The best traditional souvenirs to buy in Japan are colorful kimonos, daruma dolls, chopsticks, ceramics, and Noren curtains. But bear in mind, not everything that appeals to your eyes will be traditional. Japan is famous for shopping for cosmetics products if you are into quirky beauty and wellness things. Electronics are also in high demand, loved for their affordable prices. Also, if you want to cheer up your loved ones with a weird and fun gift, Japan offers myriad items as part of its geeky culture.

When in Tokyo, seize the opportunity to get your hands on artisanship products in the craft stores of Aoyama Square. Lacquer Obento boxes make perfect presents, representing the unique eating style of Japanese culture. Kappabashi-Dori is also a vibrant shopping destination where you can practice your bargaining skills. Kyoto is the ideal place to buy some of Japan’s iconic food. Seek out matcha-flavored goods and traditional sweets. Pottery is also famous in Kyoto, the best of which you will find in Nishiki Market. The buzzing Dotonboti district of Osaka is fit for a more upbeat Japanese shopping experience. Takoyaki (octopus balls) snack packs and Mochi cakes are local specialties.

  • Takeaway: Some tips for shopping in Japan will make your experience much more joyous. Set in its ways, Japan doesn’t expect nor appreciate bargaining. While this is especially valid in stores, you may try your luck in markets and street stalls, but don’t push it if the vendor is not willing.
Japanese culture

Religion & Etiquette

Shinto and Buddhism constitute the religious profile of Japan, with almost 70% of the population practicing Shinto and 66% Buddhism. In general, most Shinto believers are also devoted to certain teachings of Buddhism. The main religion in Japan can be considered a mix of these two belief systems. On the state level, however, Japan is secular, and most Japanese people say that they don’t practice any particular religion when asked. This is due to the fact that the concept of religion in Japan has gone beyond the boundaries of a system and became a cultural element consisting of multiple faiths, traditions, and philosophies over the years. It shows great diversity among regions and communities, but commonalities exist. Kami, meaning belief in sacred spirits, is the most fundamental block alongside other symbols such as shrines and impurity rituals.

There is a pretty strict conduct for everyday life in Japan governed by subtle concepts and etiquette. Core values are hospitality, politeness, and discipline. As a guest in this beautiful country, you will be subject to extreme politeness, and although locals do not expect travelers to give something in return, you should practice care and caution to adapt to their rules. Make use of phrases such as “thank you” or “excuse me” as much as you can when out. Punctuality is very important not only as a sign of respect but for the social structure as well. When you are paying at a store, put your money in the small tray next to the cashier as passing money directly is considered rude.

As for the eating scene in Japanese culture, there might be dozens of rules regarding chopsticks, but you will be fine if you follow the most important ones. Leaving the chopsticks sticking out of the bowl in your food is impolite. So is passing food from one chopstick to another directly. Also, you may wish to avoid pointing at things other than your food with the chopstick.

Festivals & Events

“The best festivals in Japan are the ones that take it to the streets through heart-stopping parades, but beyond that, you will be astounded by countless intimate celebrations happening in the shrines.”

Japan has a unique word to refer to its myriad festivals: matsuri. Whether it is the season or the motivation that categorizes these celebratory events, one thing is for sure—matsuri is the living soul of Japanese culture. Shinto religion is an important force driving them. A unique feature of most Japanese festivals is the wild processions in which locals carry the deity figure of every local shrine all across the town. A spiritual ritual at heart, the ceremony is a wonderful opportunity to observe Japanese culture in full motion. Costume dancers and singers parade around the procession, while locals offer their prayers to the deity. As this is the most distinct traditional Japanese celebration, there are plenty of others to discover by season and region.

Spring is a special time in Japan thanks to exquisite cherry blossoms painting the country in colors. Locals celebrate it with Hanami, the famous cherry blossom festival, and one of the best traditional Japanese festivals. Picnics under the trees and trying iconic Japanese street food in the festival stalls are highlight activities. Another cultural symbol, the Japanese lantern, receives festive cheer in the much-awaited Nagasaki Lantern Festival. Come in the summer, and you will witness one of the most famous festivals in Japan, Koenji Awa Odori. Folk dance, costumes, and many other traditions come to life during the Awa performance dating back centuries.

Festivals in Japan are great opportunities for people and families in different cities to come together. In religious festivals commemorating Buddhist or Shinto gods, traditional prayers and vivid rituals offer a glimpse into the intricate nuances of Japanese culture. Folklore elements from warriors and dragons to certain constellations are a delight to learn about.

Japanese culture

Japan Food Guide

Check out our Japan Food Guide for the tasty local dishes and drinks you must try.

Japan Travel Advice

Everything you need to know about traveling to Japan is in our Japan Travel Advice guide.

Solo Travels

Are you traveling alone? Check out our Solo Travels page for detail.

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Why Book With Travel Talk

At Travel Talk our passion is providing unforgettable adventures and unique experiences for, and with, avid travellers like you. That’s why we only run tours to the most breath-taking destinations which we specialise in. Each tour is designed to take you to the heart of a new authentic culture.The wellbeing and safety of our passengers, staff and communities visited have always been our utmost priority. We are committed to ensuring your peace of mind with our enhanced Safe Travels protocols and Special Flexible Conditions, so that you can book and travel with confidence.

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