The Japanese culture is an ancient culture, and just like other similar
cultures, has evolved a great deal over the millennia. From the prehistoric
Jomon period until now, influences affecting the Japanese lifestyle have not
only come from Asia but from Western Europe and the U.S. as well.
Still, that being said, and despite globalization, Japan still maintains
ancient traditions, which can be deemed bizarre by most people in the West.
Below are 15 of the most unique aspects of the culture of Japan, spanning from
unusual traditions to customs that are very different than practices in the
15) Raw Horse
While horse meat is not exactly a culinary choice in the U.S., the practice of
serving horse for dinner is especially appealing to the Japanese. Although
people that savor the meat like to eat it cooked, the Japanese prefer to eat
their meat like they eat sushi, sliced thin and in its raw form.
Raw Horsemeat is Called Basashi in Japanese Culture:
*Other countries that like the meat cooked include France (which thinks horse
meat is a rich and delicious cuisine), China (the top consumer), Kazakhstan (the
second largest consumer), Indonesia, Germany (which likes to serve horse meat in
a Sauerbraten roast), Switzerland, Belgium (who considers horse meat a staple),
Raw horse meat, when served in Japan, is known as sakura, or sakuraniku. The
word sakura means cherry blossom, which is a reference to the meat's pink color.
In true Japanese style, sakura is often served with ginger and onions, with the
thinly sliced pieces of meat dipped in soy sauce.
However, horse is not always served raw in Japan. Sometimes the meat is eaten
at a function known as a yakiniku, which is similar to a Western barbecue.
Placed on a skewer, the meat is referred to as baniku. At a yakiniku, raw horse,
wrapped in a shiso leaf, may be eaten along with the barbecued meat as well.
14) An Almost
100% Literacy Rate
The Japanese are known for being a studious, academic and intelligent people,
all which is confirmed by an amazing literacy rate. Hovering around 99%, the
literacy of the country is attributed to the Japanese practice of beginning
studies at an early age. Japanese children begin intense math and literary
coursework at the tender age of six.
While Japan's state education system is considered to be prohibitive as it
bars original and individual thought, the efforts toward teaching fact and
theory have resulted in some of the best exam scores in the world.
Diligent instruction in math and language continues until children reach 15
years old, or the age that a young person can legally leave school. If a student
so chooses, he can study at the senior level until he turns 17 and move on to
higher ed coursework.
Young Woman Practicing the Kanji:
Guidelines that have been implemented by the Japanese ministry of education
state that a child should be able to read a minimum of 1,006 Chinese characters
(known as the Kanji), by the time they leave the primary grades.
By the time a child reaches 15, he is expected to know an additional 1,130
characters. Students who choose to continue on to high school must learn the
remaining characters at that time. It is during this point in their academic
studies that students are encouraged to think critically, and to come up with
original concepts and theories.
"I'm Sorry," by Shaving One's Head
When someone wants to be forgiven for a misdeed, he shaves his head in Japan.
Attention to the custom was brought to the forefront when a Japanese pop star
shaved her head in February 2103.
The admission of guilt was made by Minami Minegishi of the all-girl band,
known as AKB48. Minegishi was caught visiting the home of her boyfriend,
violating the band's "no dating rule."
A video was displayed across the media as well as on the band's website,
and, has since, been seen by approximately six million viewers.
Minami Minegishi After the Infamous Shaving:
Because of the story, the custom, which had declined in popularity, has now
been brought back to life. Traditionally, only Japanese men shaved their head as
an offering for penance. However, in modern times, women have also adopted the
The sumo culture that surrounds Japanese wrestling is not something that is made
up or exaggerated in animations or film. Sumo wrestlers are serious contenders
that follow a life of strict discipline and training, all with the idea of
becoming as strong as humanly possible. Two wrestlers compete in the sport with
the goal of pushing the other outside of a circular ring. The sport is only
practiced professionally inside of Japan.
As a result, a professional sumo wrestler has a regimented life. In fact,
wrestlers are not permitted to drive a car, and must follow other stringent
rules. Breaking any of the rules will either result in suspension from the
profession, or a series of fines.
Sumo Wrestlers Manazuru Sakiemon and Musashino Konai
Known as a rikishi, the wrestler must reside in a stable, where he eats,
sleeps, and trains. His training is overseen by a stable manager.
One of the customs that may seem particularly strange to Westerners is the
sumo's bathing ritual. Younger sumo wrestlers, who are in the process of
training to become professionals, must bathe veteran sumo wrestlers as a sign of
Every culture has its own etiquette when guests visit homes. In some cultures,
it might be respectful to bring a gift. In another culture, it may be good
etiquette to greet everyone in the home when you enter the household. However,
in Japan, anyone who stays as a guest in a home is required to bathe.
In a typical Japanese home, the whole family shares one bath. When a home
features a small tub though, each family member uses the bath, one by one, in
order of age, with the senior member of the family going first. However, if you
are a visiting guest, you are accorded the honor of entering the tub before
If a Japanese home has a larger tub though, everyone gets into it. Generally,
both parents will bathe with their young children. While the tubs are found in
modern Japanese homes, many traditional homes do not have bathtubs. For this
reason, the Japanese public bathhouse, known as sento, is still used. Heated
water is available, often from a hot springs, and each sex is segregated.
Customers bathe in the water in the nude.
Patrons take off their clothes in a changing room and lay them inside a
basket with their bath towel. Lockers are available for storing valuables. While
bathers enjoy the hot spring waters of a sento naked, small towels provide
privacy outside of the bath.
Entrance to the Tsubame Yu Onsen (Kanji for Swallow and Hot
Water) in Tokyo:
Before entering the sento, bathers rinse their body with water from a
washbowl or at a tap. Today, many younger bathers prefer to take a shower
instead. After entering the bath, people soak for a while. If you are not used
to the water, it can feel exceptionally hot.
After soaking in the bath, bathers wash their body with soap, and from a tap.
They sit on a stool during the process. Then, the bathing continues - bathers
enter the bath once more. After bathing this second time, the ritual is done.
10) Lost and
Found in Local Police Boxes
If you are going to misplace or lose an item, the place to do it is in Japan.
That's because the country features a number of police boxes. Because the
Japanese people are typically honest and caring, the koban, or police box, can
fill up pretty steadily with lost items.
Japan, then, is one of the best places to lose your wallet, if there really
is an ideal place for doing so! In Japan, you will find a number of police boxes
throughout the cities, which, again, are known as kobans. Not like they sound,
kobans are actually police stations that are run and manned by officers.
Koban Police Box in the Ginza District of Tokyo, Japan:
you lose a wallet or other item, you simply have to visit a box. Youíll need to
fill out forms and supply your contact information to confirm that any lost item
belongs to you.
9) Mobile Phone
Unlike cell phone users in the Western world, the Japanese frown on speaking on
a phone inside public transport, whether it is a bus, tram, or train. Therefore,
signs are often posted asking passengers not to make calls. Passengers are also
asked to mute their phones when riding the conveyances.
Phone are especially popular among Japanese youth, as were pagers when they
were used in the 80s and 90s. Initially, users were only able to send numbers to
other pagers, which showed that somebody had received a call from a specific
However, messages soon started being sent by way of numerical codes. When
cell phone devices became more affordable in the 90s, young people started using
short messages, and, thus, the mobile phone culture began. The use of the phone
is continually evolving among the younger generation, thanks to the technology's
use and influence in the media.
No Cell Phone Sign from Japanese School:
Urination is Acceptable
In Western Europe and the United States, it is generally illegal to urinate in
the street. Japan, however, is very different in this respect. Often people
struggle to find a public toilet in the U.S., lest they buy something from a
shop or cafe so they can use the facilities.
However, in Japan, people may urinate in the street, as long as it is
discreet. Therefore, anyone who needs to relieve himself will take to a side
street or find a spot behind a bush or shrub. As the country is generally very
focused on being clean, polite, and organized, this aspect of the culture is
Japanís cities are much like modern Western cities in that many people choose to
ride bicycles instead of driving cars. Unlike places such as London, however, it
is not possible to simply ride a bike around cities like Tokyo. In Japan, you
cannot borrow a bicycle to use for one day.
While some Japanese jurisdictions do not require a bike registration or
license, other places require that the bike be driven with a registration plate.
An electric bike is one of the cycles that does not require a license or needs
to be registered.
6) Snoozing in
When you see people sleeping on the streets in the U.S., you automatically
assume the people are homeless. However, in Japan, regardless of one's
background, sleeping in the street is acceptable night or day.
Sleeping on Park Bench:
Therefore, it is not uncommon to see businessmen sound asleep on the streets
using their sports jacket or brief case as a makeshift pillow. Some people sleep
outside the train station late at night as well. So, if a rider misses his
train, he frequently finds a place to lie down and settle in for the night.
Sleeping on Commuter Train:
5) Watch the
Technology is a huge part of Japanese culture, with the nation being
particularly well known for its innovations. The toilets in Japan are not exempt
from this rule, and can be noticeably different than those in the United States.
The oldest kind of Japanese toilet is the squat toilet, which is just a hole
in the ground. However, because times have changed, Toto toilet seats are used
frequently, all which come with a wide range of features. Some of the toilet
seats are heated for comfort and many of the bathroom accessories feature an
automatic lift system. Therefore, bathroom users do not have to touch the seat
in order to lift it. Some of the toilets even come with proximity sensors, which
allow the lid to open or close. Other toilets play music that is designed to
relax the sphincter.
Many of the modern toilets store the time when the accessory was last used,
and place the high-tech system into power-saving mode. Some toilets even glow in
the dark, or are supported by an AC system installed beneath the toilet's rim.
4) No Shoes
In Japan, removing your shoes is an important custom. Therefore, it is
considered disrespectful if you enter somebodyís home without taking off your
footwear. At one time, it was considered practical to take off one's shoes.
However, now the the ritual has just become ingrained into the culture.
Exterior of Japanese Company and the Employees' Shoes:
While people offer various explanations as to the reason for shoe removal,
many in Japan claim that the origin for the habit is due to Japan's heavy rains,
all which can make things pretty muddy. Therefore, the Japanese must take off
their shoes to avoid tracking in mud or dirt. To make such a mess is considered
disrespectful as rooms in homes generally serve more than one purpose, and are
organized and clean.
So, when you visit somebody in Japan, you should remove your shoes at the
entrance. Take off the shoes while you are facing the entryway. When they are
taken off, you are required to kneel and turn the shoes so they are not in the
way of the door. Never show your back to the host when you are placing the shoes
down as it is considered rude.
Usually, you will be given slippers to wear when you are in a home or
business. You will also be given another pair of slippers if you have to use the
In the West, the most significant birthdays tend to be the 1st, 16th, 18th and
21st birthdays. In Japan, however, the aging process is more revered. The
youngest significant birthdays are three, five and seven years old. There is a
Japanese word, schichi-go-san, which means seven-five-three, and is the name of
a celebration on November 15th. This national holiday celebrates the lives of
the people who are currently the aforementioned ages.
The next significant birthday is 20, as this is when a young person becomes
an adult. It is at the age of 20 that a person can legally drink and smoke
tobacco. After this major milestone, the 60th birthday is considered the most
significant. This birthday is noted as it is the time the five Chinese zodiac
cycles have been completed.
The beiju celebration is an event that commemorates one's 88th birthday. The
word beiju means "rice age." Therefore, the holiday refers to the Chinese
character for the word "rice" as the "word" is similar to the characters used to
represent the number 88.
Chinese Zodiac Statues:
2) The Kimono
The kimono is a cultural garment worn in Japan that, when translated into
English, literally means "thing to wear." The kimono has changed in many small
ways throughout the generations, but, basically, remains as a regular straight
robe that reaches the ankles of the wearer.
Featuring long sleeves, the garment is wrapped around the body. When it is
wrapped, the robe should only be tied on the left side, with the material
covering the right side. This rule is applicable unless the wearer is being
prepared for burial. When the kimono has been wrapped, it is held in place using
an obi, which essentially is a long piece of fabric that is tied at the back of
A number of kimono styles are available for both women and men. These styles
include the susohiki, uchikake, tsukesage, tomesode, mofuku, komon, iromuhi,
homongi and furisode. Kimonos come in both formal and casual styles.
The degree of formality is dependent on the color and pattern of the garment.
Generally, a younger woman's kimono will have longer sleeves, which also is an
indicator that a woman is not married. Therefore, a single woman's kimono is
considered more elaborate while a married woman's kimono is deemed as a standard
The man's kimono is of one shape and features subdued colors. Often a family
crest is presented on the material, which also determines the formality of the
robe. The favorite fabric used tends to be silk. However, a regular-type fabric,
such as cotton or polyester, makes the robe a more formalized type of apparel.
Japan has a number of formal and informal greeting customs, but the main way a
person greets another person is by bowing. The Japanese bow demonstrates
appreciation or respect to the person that you are greeting. This kind of bow is
performed by bending at the waist, and is often accompanied by a verbal
Proper Business Etiquette in Japan Involves the Proper
Amount of Bowing:
Therefore, when saying good morning, good afternoon or hello, it is customary
to bow. It is also customary to bow to somebody if you are saying thank you or
There are three kinds of bows that can be performed, all which involve bowing
at a different angle. The bows are angled at 15, 30 and 45 degrees.
The most casual bow involves the 15-degree bend and is known as the eshaku
bow. This bow often involves dipping the head slightly too, and is performed
when you are greeting somebody casually, or are passing someone, while indoors
or in the street. who is thought to be of a higher status. Oftentimes, using
words is entirely acceptable, but the additional bow is seen as a greater sign
The second bow involves bowing at 30 degrees, and is known as the keirei bow.
This is the greeting that is used in business, and is typically performed when
entering or leaving a meeting room. It is also used in retail settings when a
manager or shop owner is greeting a customer.
The final bow is the most polite way to greet a person, and is known as the
saikeirei bow. This bow involves a significant bend of 45 degrees, and is used
to express either gratitude or apology.
The Japanese culture is very different than the culture of the West, and is
defined by a rich and extensive history. While the above examples of the
Japanese way of life give you a basic overview of Japanese customs and
etiquette, there are many more traditions that remain to be considered.
The Japanese have their own customs relating to caring for children, eating
in public, meeting the parents of a bride or groom, and communicating with
business colleagues. So, if you are planning to visit or stay in Japan for any
length of time, you will find that there is a lot to learn about Japanese
traditions and communication.