After some interesting facts about Japanese Culture? There’s a lot to know about this amazing country, so it’s hard to narrow it down into a single blog post, but we’re going to try!
Honestly, if I were forced to pick a favorite country to travel in, it would have to be Japan. Not that it is a secret, I’ve noted numerous times on this travel blog that I love to travel to Japan. But why do I love it so much? The Japanese culture of course! Here are some magical Japanese culture facts.
Interesting Japanese Culture Facts!
1. Japanese people are often Shinto and Buddhist
Though only about 40% of Japanese people subscribe to organized religion, around 80% of people in Japan partake in Shinto ceremonies, and approximately 34% of Japanese people say that they are practicing Buddhists. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are often found on the same site, the result of centuries of mixing the two – called shinbutsu.
2. Shinto shrines are everywhere across Japan
Shinto is the native Japanese belief system that’s focused on nature and a whole lot of gods. Shinto shrines can often be found in surprising places; along small lanes, inside trees, under mountains, and at the bottom of skyscrapers. Omairi – or visiting a shrine – is still part of everyday life; it’s not unusual to see people stopping at their local shrine to pray on the way home from work.
3. Praying at shrines involves clapping
Yep. But first you bow, offer some small change, bow deeply twice, ring the bell (tells the gods you’re there), then you clap twice, pray, and thank the gods in your mind, bow deeply once more, and leave. Shrine etiquette is a fact of life in Japanese culture!
4. Eating out by yourself is totally okay in Japan
Unlike a lot of countries, rocking up and finding a table at many restaurants throughout the land by yourself isn’t weird. Sitting at the bar alone and eating Japanese food is usual. Good to know.
5. There’s a type of Japanese food that is based on Western food
It’s called yoshoku. It came to over to Japan when the county was opened to the West. Dishes such as Hamburg steak, British influenced curry, and Japanese rice wrapped in an omelet – called omurice – are all very common dishes. This is so ingrained among Japanese people as what Western people commonly eat that they are surprised when a Western person hasn’t heard of omurice.
6. Japan was basically vegetarian for 1,400 years
That might seem like a crazy fact about Japanese culture, but it’s true. In the 19th century, the Meiji emperor himself broke the taboo and ate meat, popularising a Japan increasingly open to Western ideals. Before then, Buddhist laws passed in the 7th century prohibited eating meat (birds and fish were okay though).
7. Wearing shoes inside is not normal
There are often even separate toilet slippers. The idea of taking off your shoes before entering a house, restaurant, or hotel is to keep the dirt outside. It is pretty tough to get dirt out of a tatami mat, after all. There are usually special shoe areas at the entrance of buildings where people remove their outside shoes and put on slippers for indoors. Don’t go inside a Japanese home with shoes on, it is considered very impolite.
8. People bathe naked in Japan – together
Being naked in a public place might feel a little strange to those of us from Western countries, but bathing nude in communal baths is very much a normal activity in Japanese culture. Onsen baths are natural hot springs that are meant to have therapeutic qualities; sento are simply public baths with normal water. The tradition goes back centuries. See more Japan travel tips here.
9. Hanami means ‘flower viewing’
The famous cherry blossom season in Japan is super famous. But it’s not just about taking selfies and Insta-ing pics of the flowers. Sitting underneath blossoms of various trees is another centuries-old tradition. Families and friends gather for picnics under the full bloom and think about the impermanence and beauty of life.
10. But it’s not all about cherry blossoms
There are lots of other times of year when people go out into nature to see the changing of the season; it’s a fact that Japanese culture is all about the seasons. In the fall, thousands of people head to mountains and parks to see the koyo, or ‘red leaves.’ The Japanese maple is the most famous. And if trees aren’t your jam, moss-viewing tours are getting quite popular too!
11. Everybody reads manga
Dating back to as early as the 1950s, comics have been big news in Japan. Known as manga, the comics are read daily by everyday people, and not just otaku (geeks). It’s normal to see commuters on the way to work reading manga on their phone or standing flicking through the latest manga from the shelves of convenience stores.
12. People also read the air in Japan
When having a conversation, knowing when to change the subject or not talk anymore is called kuuki yomi – reading the air. People who are socially awkward or annoying are said to be unable to read the air; being overly aggressive or even not knowing when to say goodbye after meeting up with a friend are both examples. Kind of like ‘reading between the lines.’
13. And a lot of people play videogames too
Everyone knows that Japan is big into its games. It’s the home of Nintendo, Sega, and PlayStation. Some of the first games to enter the psyche of the western world were from Japan – Mario, Zelda, and most famously of all, Pokemon. Playing phones on smartphones is big news, and it’s not uncommon to see people tapping away at the latest game on their phone.
14. It’s illegal to gamble in Japan, but people get around the law by playing pachinko
Another big game that is played up and down the country is pachinko. This cultural phenomenon is a uniquely Japanese way to gamble. The pinball-like game is played in huge, bright spaces known as parlors. The game is about small metal balls; the more balls you get, the more you win. After you’ve had your fun, the balls are exchanged for cold hard cash in a separate shop. The fact that money changes hands in a different place is a legal loophole to get around gambling.
15. Bowing is very important in Japanese culture
Probably an obvious fact about Japanese culture, but yeah… bowing – or ojigi – is important. And we mean to basically everybody. Whether it’s a nod to the convenience store clerk or a big bow to your superior at work, it’s a real thing. How many times you bow and how deeply you bow shows your level of respect to the person you’re bowing too. Even friends bow to each other!
16. There’s even a certain way you should hand over a business card
Again, it’s to show respect. You’re supposed to take it with two hands (and a small bow). Then you’re supposed to look at it – study it, almost. Then you’re not supposed to shove it in a pocket or leave it somewhere thoughtless. A wallet will do. But many people have specialized cardholders. It’s huge – everyone has one, basically.
17. It’s not polite to be noisy on the train in Japan
Once you’re on a train in Japan, you’ll notice one thing right away – it’s quiet. If people talk, generally, they do so pretty quietly. People rarely take a call on the train (a handy fact to know about Japan). You’re in such close quarters that keeping yourself to yourself is not just the most polite, but also the sanest thing you could be doing. It’s all about harmony.
18. But Japanese people aren’t always quiet
Many people think that Japanese people are quiet and not open to talking to strangers. This isn’t always the case, and definitely not the case after a night out. The Japanese are big into drinking. Alcohol is a massive part of everyday Japanese culture (fact), and it’s not unusual to see rowdy groups of friends falling out of bars and starting up conversations with strangers.
19. AKB48 and other Japanese girl bands are a big deal
Japanese pop groups are a super lucrative business, with new bands starting up almost daily. One of the most well-known girl groups is AKB48; the band is made up of 48 (or more) members, and they have a cafe, TV show, and a crazy amount of merchandise! The J-pop scene is followed by an extremely loyal fan base, who attend all their favorite bands’ gigs and know all the dance moves.
20. If a curtain is hung up outside a restaurant, it usually means it’s open
The noren (curtain) that you can often see hanging over the doors of Japanese restaurants, cafes, and bars might look pretty, but they are there for a reason. They’re called noren. Often showing the name of the establishment, they are used to indicate the shop is open. Almost like an open sign; if the curtain’s not up, then there’s no dinner for you!
21. Counter staff in Japan are super polite
If you go to a convenience store in Japan, expect a barrage of things to be said to you. Although they seem to be saying a lot of stuff, what they are actually saying are super lengthy and polite versions of words and other phrases. Usually, responding isn’t necessary, just a thank you will do. It’s just another way to show politeness.
22. Putting chopsticks in your food should be avoided
When people leave offerings for deceased ancestors, it’s customary to leave a bowl of food with chopsticks pointing out of it. If you do anything that looks like this in a restaurant, you might get some weird looks. It’s a good fact to know about Japanese culture if you’re planning a trip! When you are done with your chopsticks just place them to the side to be safe.
23. People’s public and private lives couldn’t be more different
An interesting fact about Japanese culture is the importance placed on the idea of public and private lives. Honne means ‘true voice,’ and refers to your private thoughts and actions; tatemae (‘built in front’) is your public appearance, what you ‘should’ be doing. It can lead to some quirky double lives, like an office middle manager by day and underground noise musician by night.
24. It’s normal for Japanese people to work hard (and a lot)
Yes, this isn’t a myth. The Japanese working day is long. People pack into trains early in the morning and often don’t finish until 10 pm. Working an office job has echoes of the daimyo–retainer relationship of samurai fame. Though Japanese law states 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, it isn’t unheard of for people to work 60 hour weeks. This sometimes leads to the shocking phenomenon of karōshi – death by overworking.
25. People wear traditional clothes a lot in summer
Summertime is festival season in Japan, and the streets will be filled with locals dressed in traditional summer kimonos – not just women, but men too. People dress like this to beat the heat, tuck a fan in their obi, and join the communal dances of the height of summer – bon-ōdori – a circular dance around a stage with a drummer keeping time.
26. Specialization is super important
The word kodawari can mean a lot of things. It can mean obsessive, persnickety, that sort of thing. But it can also mean ‘specialization.’ It’s best understood as a single-minded pursuit of perfection. You see it in everything – from people’s dedication to their hobbies and the work ethic in business to the way a craftsperson will spend decades honing their skills in just one area of expertise. It’s pretty inspiring.
27. There are particular ages for children to visit shrines in Japan
There are specific ages when Japanese children visit the shrine; 3 and 7 for girls, 5 (and sometimes 3) for boys. It’s a tradition going back at least a thousand years to the Heian period, when nobles would celebrate their offspring’s transition from childhood to middle childhood. On the weekend nearest to November 15 each year, children dress up in traditional outfits and visit the shrine with their smartly dressed parents to celebrate.
28. Traditionally, you are one-year-old the moment you’re born in Japan
A little known fact about Japanese culture: everyone’s a year older than you think. Known as kazoedoshi – or ‘counted years’ – people would then, along with everybody else, turn one year older every New Year’s Day. Wanting to modernize, the government made this system obsolete in 1902, but it was so popular they had to pass another law in 1950!
Before the advent of science and understanding of tectonic plates, it was believed that a giant catfish called Namazu thrashing around under the earth created all of Japan’s seismic activity. It was the job of one god, Takemizakuchi, to subdue Namazu, but when he let his guard down, that’s when there would be an earthquake.
30. Japan takes flower arranging to a whole new level
Ikebana is the practice of arranging flowers with as much attention paid to the space between flowers as to the flowers and branches used themselves. It’s all very zen. It was part of a trilogy of classical ‘refined arts’ back in the day – kadō (the way of flowers), kōdō (the way of incense), and chadō (the way of tea).
Quick Travel Tips for Japan
- Capital: Tokyo is the capital of Japan while Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido.
- Currency: The Japanese Yen(¥) is the currency of Japan. Most places in Japan do not accept credit card and it’s always advisable to have cash on you.
- Visa: Most visitors can enter Japan visa-free for 90 days – check with your embassy.
- What to Pack: It all depends on when you visit Japan. See our full Japan packing list here.
What to Pack for Japan?
Wondering what to wear in Japan? You aren’t alone. Japan can be a very tricky country to pack for as there are so many styles you can go with, and of course, every season is different.
We’ve traveled to Japan during all their four seasons. Most of Japan is a four-season country and winter travel is vastly different than summer. Here are the essential Japan packing list items to bring with you depending on the season you visit!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Japan. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and found the images to look amazing. Check out our other travel cameras here.
Japan mainly uses the Type A plug like North America, but there is generally no socket for the grounded portion. Make sure you find a good universal adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may struggle to find one once you land.