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Japan’s culture has fascinated millions of people around the world. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, over 30 million overseas travelers visited Japan in 2018, and this continues to grow. The Japanese language is also one of the top languages to learn. In this article, we will cover some of the Japanese culture facts that make Japan a unique country.

Japanese Culture Facts You Should Know

There are a lot of peculiar traditions, customs, and etiquette that Japanese people strictly follow. If you are an overseas traveler, you should also respect and follow these traditions.

It’s Rude to Eat, Drink, or Smoke While Walking

It is acceptable to sip your drink, eat a snack, or even smoke while walking in most countries. However, in Japan, eating and drinking are considered a low-class thing and rude despite having thousands of vending machines in public places. Smoking while walking, on the other hand, should be really taken seriously as it is even illegal in some places. Japanese want to maintain the cleanliness of their country and don’t want to risk bothering other people because of their cigarettes.  

Chopstick Positions Have Meaning

Chopsticks are the most important eating utensils for Japanese, and they use this in almost everything that they eat. In Japan, there is chopsticks etiquette, and these rules are specific to Japanese that one must follow. Here are some of the important rules you should know.

Sticking your chopsticks upright in a rice bowl is called “tate bashi,” and it is seen as a lack of respect because this is similar to “watashi-bashi” that is traditionally done at funerals. Stabbing or poking your food with chopsticks is also rude and seen as lacking in manners. Other chopsticks don’ts that you should bear in mind are:

  • Rubbing our chopsticks together.
  • Passing food from one set of chopsticks to another. 
  • Playing with chopsticks.
  • Leaving the chopsticks crossed on a bowl or table.
  • Sucking your chopsticks.
  • Pointing with your chopsticks.
japanese-culture-eating-ramen

Slurping noodles is a compliment

In most countries, chewing and slurping loudly is rude, and most people will judge you as disrespectful, selfish, and annoying. However, in Japan, you will find and hear that most people are slurping noodles when you are dining in a noodle shop. Slurping noodles is not rude in Japan, and it is acceptable that you eat with a bowl close to your mouth. Japanese slurp their noodles as a sign of compliment that they enjoy their meal and show pleasure eating it. Slurping also helps enhance the flavor of the food.  

Bowing Is Important In Japanese Culture

Bowing, or “ojigi,” is a highly regarded greeting and deeply embedded in the culture of Japan, and you will commonly find Japanese bow constantly in different situations. There are many reasons why Japanese, but it is predominantly used to communicate respect regardless of your social status and that you are placing them over yourself. 

There are also different ways to bow in JapanEshakuSenreiKeirei, and Saikeirei. It is important that you do not curve your back or slouch. Show the other person that you are putting on your best by bowing using your upper torso in a nice and straight posture and your head moving downward with your torso. Your lower body should not move and remain vertical to the ground.  

For men, they should bow with their hands, and arms should be at their sides, while women’s arms and hands should be in front. 

Eating Sushi

Japanese eat sushi often. According to research, 25% of the Japanese population eats sushi two to three times a month, 30% once a month. Sushi is significant to the Japanese for many reasons. Japanese are very punctual and anxious not to be late. They are very busy people, so there’s nothing more convenient than grabbing a quick snack. Sushi is just one of those healthy foods which Japanese people can eat quickly.  

Sushi eating etiquette is just simple. You can use chopsticks or your fingers (thumb, index, and middle finger to be exact) in picking up the sushi. Then dab the fish side, not the rice side, of the sushi into the soy sauce. Do not soak the whole sushi or dip the rice side as it will absorb much soy sauce and can jeopardize the structure and taste of the sushi. 

Changing shoes for house slippers before entering the house 

Wearing shoes inside the house is not normal in Japan. Genkan is the lower section of the floor inside the door, where one removes and leaves their footwear on entering. Most hosts will provide house slippers to their guests to wear inside for warmth and comfort. The purpose of genkan is to set a boundary between the inside of the house and outside. People should take off their shoes before entering their house for cleanliness and to avoid bringing dirt from the outside. Japanese also prefer to do most of their activities on the floor, like sleeping, eating, and sitting.        

Onsen Etiquette

Onsen in Japan means hot spring and can either be an indoor or outdoor onsen. There are unspoken etiquette and protocol that you should follow before you dive and bathe into an onsen. Failure to comply with these rules is not acceptable and will be grounds for dismissal from the onsen

First, you need to be clean before entering an onsen. It is customary to wash first, scrubbing and rinsing all the dirt, sweat, and excess soap. Most onsens have a shower area around and outside the bathing area. Stools are provided while you wash to avoid splashing the person next to you. You want to keep the water as clean in an onsen as possible for hygienic purposes and to show respect to the other onsen users.

Second, the other reason why you should clean yourself before bathing in an onsen is that it is traditional in the Japanese culture to bathe in an onsen naked—together. But don’t worry, because there are separate onsens for men and women. 

Third, Small and large towels are also provided for rent. The large towel is for drying yourself, but this will be left in the changing room. The small towel can be taken in the bathing area for washing or to causally hide regions as you move around. 

Fourth, you should avoid dipping your towel and putting your head or hair underwater to prevent dirtying the water. Bring a hairband or wrap your hair in a small towel. 

Fifth, having tattoos is a no-no. This is because most Japanese associate tattooed people with Japan’s (organized crime) mafia.

Sixth, Avoid making noises as most people go to onsens to relax.

Final Thoughts

These are just some of the Japanese culture facts that you should know and practice when visiting Japan. Aside from these Japanese culture facts, you should also need to learn to speak Japanese or should know the basic words. There are only a few Japanese who are fluent in speaking English. To enjoy your travel experience in Japan, here are two online courses you can take.

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