Culture & Traditions

10 Hidden Secrets about Japan culture and traditions

Most of us heard about various Japanese traditions and we know what Japan is famous for. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about this unique country, so understanding its complexity of customs and traditions has become somewhat difficult. It’s impossible to learn about all aspects of the incredible culture of the land of the rising sun in one sitting, but we want to present ten noteworthy facts regarding the most fascinating customs to you. These are only some of the reasons why so many tourists state that Japan is the best country in the world.

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Chanoyu – unusual tea ceremony in Japan

What do you do when you want a cup of tea? You just take a kettle, fill it with water and you know the rest of the procedures. But what to do when you want a cup of tea in Japan? Well, it may not be so simple. When you get lost in some narrow Tokyo street it’s possible that you’ll accidentally go to a small, mysterious room, where Chanoyu takes place. It’s a Japanese Matcha Tea Ceremony, which is now a part of Japanese tradition. This custom refers to secret meetings organized by the Samurai of yore in the past. The entrance to such a secret room always needed to be extremely small to prevent participants from bringing their swords with them. Before the ceremony, the tea master asks participants to clean their “hands and heart” prior to entering the tea room. Nowadays, of course, such a ceremony is available to everyone, not just Samurais. Usually taking part in it requires a previous reservation and costs about 3500 Yen (about $35).

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Setsubun – a fascinating annual holiday

Spring is a magical time when you don’t even need a good reason to celebrate. The Japanese know it as well. That’s why the day before the Spring begins, they celebrate Setsubun. It’s a Japanese holiday, which has a spiritual meaning for the natives. According to the Japanese beliefs, this time of the year is when the spirit world and material world get close to one another. During this holiday, children take part in an activity known as mamemaki. It consists in symbolical chasing the demons away from their house. What does it really mean? In practice, it is parents that dress up as daemons and their children throw beans at them. This holiday is celebrated both at home and in shrines.

The Expats Guide to JapanThe Expats Guide to Japan

Onsen – let’s have a hot bath

An active volcano is something that sounds dangerous and most people wouldn’t like to come near. If you’re one of such people, you may be sure that the Japanese wouldn’t agree with you. Thanks to a variety of active volcanoes, it’s possible to organize hot spring public baths known as Onsen. If you happen to be in the vicinity of one, you should know better than take swimwear with you. Most of the onsen baths are nude-only, so wearing trunks or any other piece of clothes would be a serious faux pas. In most Onsen facilities you’ll be offered a locker where you can deposit your clothes, so you don’t need to worry about them. It may also be required to wash before entering the spring. Because of nudity, it is forbidden to take pictures and make videos in the bathing areas. You must admit that it sounds reasonable.

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Geishas – true keepers of Japanese traditions

Most of the people heard the word Geisha once or twice, but do we really know what this traditional Japanese profession is? There are many misconceptions related to Geishas. A lot of people falsely think that it’s a euphemistic name for a prostitute, but it’s not. In fact, Geisha is a master of vital cultural practices. She’s a dancer and singer, but she also knows traditional literature and poetry. A good Geisha knows everything about such arts as flower arranging and has perfectly developed interpersonal skills. Today, they spend time with customers of ochaya, Japanese tea houses, and they enjoy both appreciation and respect. A Geisha is always dressed in a kimono and wears her hair in a traditional chignon.

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Capsule hotels

When you are in the middle of a big Japanese city, you may be under the impression that the Japanese are used to crowds so they don’t need much space. This impression will be reinforced once you see a capsule hotel. These are relatively cheap accommodation options, where you are offered – as the name suggests – a compact capsule. You can close it with a curtain or a door, but according to Japanese law, the door can’t be locked from the inside. Such hotels usually offer double-stacked pods arranged in horizontal rows. Although the capsules may seem overwhelmingly small, they are equipped with an air-conditioning system, so the guests can breathe easily. Although it’s an original Japanese invention, today you can find it in many countries around the world. Even if you’re claustrophobic, you can still enjoy this type of accommodation. There’s enough space to move around and you also have the whole corridor at your disposal.

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Shugi Bukuro – small gifts for newlyweds

A wedding ceremony is not a laughing matter, regardless of the country we live in. It’s not surprising that there are so many traditions and customs related to such an important celebration and the Japanese know that very well. One of the obligatory elements of a Japanese wedding is Shugi Bukuro. It’s expected from the guests to give between 20,000 and 100,000 Yen (depending on the marital status of the guests and their relation to the newlyweds). There are some other rules than the amount itself. One of them says that the amount shouldn’t start with an even number because it suggests that the couple will divorce soon and divide their money. According to another rule, the gift-givers should avoid numbers 9 and 4 because in Japan they sound like, respectively, death and suffering. Would you wish death and suffering to newlyweds?

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Zabutons – the weapon of angry spectators

Even if you’ve never watched a Sumo match, you know that in most cases, sports emotions wouldn’t be strong enough without the participation of the audience. In a typical Sumo stadium, the audience sit in the area known as tatami. The spectators get zabutons, Japanese soft pillows, to sit on while watching the match. Is sitting on them their only purpose? Of course not. When the audience get emotional they tend to throw their zabuton pillows into the ring. You may find it aggressive, but you must admit – it’s safer than bottles and baseball bats.

Japan ObjectsJapan Objects

Eating in public – be careful!

Once you get hungry in the middle of a Japanese street, remember one rule – ikkai ichi dosa. It could be understood as “one thing at a time”. Don’t walk and eat at the same time when you’re in Japan. Try to meet your hunger at home or in a restaurant. Although you may think now that the solution to this problem is to sit down, it’s not so simple. If you sit down in a random place and eat, a Japanese person would consider it as an example of bad behavior. Fortunately, in some places, there are special seatings for eating people where you don’t have to worry about being impolite. They may be located in a station or a convenience store.

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Never tip in the restaurant

You’ve just spent a great time in a restaurant and eaten a delicious meal. How can you express your appreciation? It would seem fair to tip the staff, but first, make sure that you’re not in Japan. In the land of the rising sun, your tip probably wouldn’t be welcome and the staff would treat it as a change and give it back to you. Why? The basic idea of tipping is to show that we are satisfied with the service, right? The Japanese, however, presume that the dining service should always be satisfactory, so you don’t need to highlight it. It holds the same for massage salons, hotels and spas. Getting additional money from customers may be considered rude and offensive. Instead, if we want to show we are grateful, we should just remember about politeness. Don’t forget to incline your head when you greet the staff in a Japanese restaurant or a hotel. Naturally, in famous Japanese cities, such as Tokyo, many tourists arrive every day and a lot of them tend to tip, so you may see some people doing it. But now you know that it’s not the best idea, so you don’t have to repeat the mistakes of other visitors.

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Dondo Yaki

The Japanese believe that some items bring them luck, but there’s a catch. If they keep them for more than a year, the lucky items stop being lucky. Actually, they don’t even become neutral, because they are believed to bring bad luck then. Taking them out is not enough to neutralize their ominous aura, so the only effective solution seems to be burning them. This practice is known as Dondo Yaki, but when should such items be burned? It depends on what the year’s zodiac sign is. Each of the 12 zodiac signs is ascribed to one month.

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