Exploring Unique Aspects of Japanese Culture

Unique aspects of Japanese culture are a source of fascination for people all around the world. From its delectable cuisine to the exquisite art of flower arrangement, Japan’s culture is incredibly diverse and rich. One unique aspect of Japanese culture that sets it apart from other cultures is its strict adherence to etiquette and social norms.

For instance, visitors to Japan are expected to bow when greeting someone, remove their shoes before entering someone’s home, and use chopsticks in a particular manner. Another aspect that makes Japanese culture stand out is the concept of “wa,” which emphasizes harmony and the group over the individual. This is reflected in the country’s approach to teamwork, social dynamics, and even decision-making.

1. Omiyage Gifts are a Unique Tradition

Omiyage is a term in Japanese culture that refers to specialty regional delicacies packed in brightly colored boxes with separate wrapped food items, which are presented as gifts to friends, family, and coworkers after a trip. Unlike souvenirs, omiyage are intended for sharing, and it is customary to bring them back from your travels.

2. Christmas is a Romantic Occasion in Japan

While Christians comprise only a small portion of Japan’s population, Christmas is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Japan. The holiday is more of a curiosity than a religious festival, with Christmas trees and elaborate light displays being popular. However, similar to Valentine’s Day, Christmas Eve is considered a romantic occasion, with couples exchanging gifts and going out for nice dinners.

Unique Aspects of Japanese Culture
If you’re looking for a romantic break in Japan, try the Christmas illumination light show in Tokyo

3. Understanding Japanese Footwear Etiquette

In Japan, it is customary to remove one’s shoes upon entering someone’s house or certain other venues, such as temples, shrines, and restaurants. However, guests may not always know whether they are required to remove their shoes. Thankfully, there are a few signs to watch out for, such as the presence of slippers around the entryway, which indicates that outside shoes should be removed and replaced with slippers. Additionally, if the entry floor is raised, guests should remove their shoes in the doorway before stepping onto the higher surface.

4. The History of Tooth Blackening in Japan

For many generations, tooth blackening, or ohaguro, was a widespread practice among Japanese women, especially married women and geishas. This procedure was believed to protect the teeth against decay and other dental ailments while also being seen as a symbol of beauty. Women used various substances such as tooth wax and ink to darken their teeth. However, in the late 1800s, Japan’s efforts to modernize and appear more acceptable to Westerners led to the banning of this practice.

5. Eating and Drinking Etiquette in Japan

While it is common in many Western countries to eat or drink while walking down the street, this practice is considered impolite in Japan. While the etiquette around this has relaxed somewhat in recent years, it is still customary for most Japanese people to eat or drink their purchase from a vending machine while standing next to the machine rather than walking around with it.

Eating out? Don’t chow down or drink while you’re walking | © The New York Times

6. Baseball is the National Sport

While sumo is considered the national sport of Japan, baseball is the most widely played and watched sport in the country. It was introduced during the Meiji Period and gained immense popularity due to the American influence during World War II. With two professional baseball leagues and several high school and university leagues, Japanese baseball is known for its enthusiastic fan culture, complete with chants and organized cheers.

7. Horse Meat is a Popular Dish

Consumption of horse meat has a long history in Japan, dating back to the late 16th century. As the use of horses for agriculture and transportation declined in the 1960s, horse meat became a more common ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Basashi, or raw horse meat, is a popular dish served in restaurants with grated ginger and a sweet shoyu sauce. Its pink color has earned it the nickname of “sakura niku,” or cherry blossom meat.

8. The Significance of Chopstick Positions

In Japanese dining culture, it is considered bad luck to place chopsticks in a meal to rest them while not eating, as it resembles a burial ceremony. Passing food from chopsticks to chopsticks is also considered a taboo for the same reason. Instead, it is customary to use your chopsticks to transfer food to the other person’s plate if you wish to share. These small details reflect the deep cultural significance and attention to detail in Japanese society.

Check your chopstick position when dining in Japan | © SOUTH_AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

9. The Origin of Geishas

Geisha, which literally means “person of the arts,” initially referred to male entertainers who served as advisers to feudal lords and entertained the court with various artistic performances and storytelling. Female geishas, or onna geishas, emerged in the late 18th century, and within 25 years of their introduction, surpassed their male counterparts in popularity.

10. Drinking Etiquette

When sharing a bottle of sake or other drink at a table, it is customary for each individual to refill one another’s glasses, rather than pouring their own. One should wait for others to refill their glass when it is empty and keep an eye on the other guests’ glasses as they will be waiting for you to refill theirs. If one does not wish to drink more, they should leave their glass full.

Credit: ByFood

11. The Art of Slurping

In Japan, it is not only normal to slurp noodles or soup while eating, but it is also considered a compliment to the chef and an indication of the dish’s deliciousness. This practice is encouraged, and it is best to consume the noodles while they are still hot. Slurping also helps to prevent the soup from spilling on one’s clothing.

12. Appreciating Bonsai Trees

Bonsai, a type of potted tree that is artistically designed to resemble the natural appearance of a full-sized tree, requires a specific approach when admiring them. After admiring the tree’s aesthetic, viewers should lower their line of sight to the same level as the tree, striving to envision themselves as small as possible. This approach allows viewers to imagine how the tree would appear in its natural environment.

There’s a proper method of viewing a bonsai tree.

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