30 Japanese Culture Facts That Will BLOW Your Mind

After some interesting facts about Japanese Culture? There’s a lot to know about this amazing country, so it’s hard to narrow Japanese culture facts down into a single blog post, but we’re going to try!

Honestly, if I were forced to pick a favorite country to travel to, 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  

Japanese people are often Shinto and Buddhist  
This is one of my favorite Japanese cultural facts

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 due to centuries of mixing the two – called shinbutsu

2. Shinto shrines are everywhere across Japan

Kumano Kodo
Shinto shrines are an important part of Japan culture

An awesome Japanese culture fact! 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 

Kumano Kodo

This is one of those interesting facts about Japanese Culture we learned while in Japan. Yep. But first, you bow, offer some small change, bow deeply twice, ring the bell (tells the gods you’re there), then 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 okay in Japan

Matcha in Kyoto

Unlike many 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 

There’s a type of Japanese food that is based on Western food 

Yup, this is one of those interesting and fun Japanese culture facts. It’s called yoshoku. It came 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 vegetarian for 1,400 years

Japan was 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

 Wearing shoes inside is not normal
One of my favorite Japanese culture facts!

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. After all, it is pretty tough to get the dirt out of a tatami mat.

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 impolite.

Want your own pair of Japanese Slippers? See them here!

8. People bathe naked in Japan – together

 People bathe naked in Japan - together
In a Japanese Sento / Japan Culture

Being naked in a public place might feel a little strange to those from Western countries, but bathing nude in communal baths is a normal activity in Japanese culture.

Onsen baths are natural hot springs with therapeutic qualities; a Japanese sento is a public bath with normal water. The tradition goes back centuries. See more Japanese travel tips here.

A Foreigners Ultimate Guide to Japanese Sentos, Saunas, and Bathhouses

9. Hanami means ‘flower viewing’

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 the 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 

But it’s not all about cherry blossoms 

There are many other times of the 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.

Thousands of people head to mountains and parks in the fall 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

Everybody reads manga in japan

Dating back to as early as the 1950s, comics have been big news in Japan, which is a pretty well known Japan culture fact. Known as manga, people read comics daily, 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

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. Social awkward or annoying people 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 

 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 Western world’s psyche were from Japan – Mario, Zelda, and most famously, Pokemon.

Playing phones on smartphones is big news, and it’s not uncommon to see people tapping away at the latest game on their phones. 

14. It’s illegal to gamble in Japan, but people get around the law by playing pachinko 

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 fun, the balls are exchanged for cold hard cash in a separate shop. 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 everybody. Whether it’s a nod to the convenience store clerk or a big bow to your superior at work, it’s real.

How many times you bow and how deeply you bow shows your level of respect for the person you’re bowing to. Even friends bow to each other!

16. There’s even a certain way you should hand over a business card

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.

17. It’s not polite to be noisy on the train in Japan

 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.

Shop for a JR Pass for traveling around Japan!

18. But Japanese people aren’t always quiet

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 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 others are a big deal 

AKB48 and others are a big deal 
photo by youngelectricpop via flickr

Japanese pop groups are lucrative, with new bands starting almost daily. One of the most well-known girl groups is AKB48; the band comprises 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 

Niseko, Hokkaido

The noren (curtain) 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

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 saying are 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

 Putting chopsticks in your food should be avoided - japanese culture facts

When people leave offerings for deceased ancestors, it’s customary to leave a bowl of food with chopsticks pointing out. If you do anything that looks like this in a restaurant, you might get some weird looks.

It’s good 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 quirky double lives, like an office middle manager by day and an underground noise musician by night.

24. It’s normal for Japanese people to work hard (and a lot)

 It’s normal for Japanese people to work hard (and a lot) - japanese culture facts

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 echoes 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

Nikko Pass

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 

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 how 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

Things to do in Kyoto

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

 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 turn one year older every New Year’s Day, along with everybody else. Wanting to modernize, the government made this system obsolete in 1902, but it was so popular they had to pass another law in 1950!

29. Japanese people used to think a catfish caused earthquakes

 Japanese people used to think a catfish caused earthquakes

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.

One god’s job, Takemizakuchi, was to subdue Namazu, but when he let his guard down, there would be an earthquake.

30. Japan takes flower arranging to a whole new level

Facts About Japanese Culture

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 Japan’s capital, while Sapporo is Hokkaido’s capital.
  • Currency: The Japanese Yen(¥) is the currency of Japan. Most places in Japan do not accept credit cards 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?

Tokyo to Nikko

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 four seasons, from snowboarding in Niseko to summer days in Kyoto, you have to think about many things when traveling here. Most of Japan is a four-season country, and winter travel differs vastly from summer. Here are the essential Japan packing list items to bring with you, depending on the season you visit!

Japan Travel Planning Resources

About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

1 thought on “30 Japanese Culture Facts That Will BLOW Your Mind”

  1. Some corrections to these Japanese culture facts: 1. Japanese people seem to be Shintoists and Buddhists, but that is only a formality; atheists are the most numerous; 3. The clapping system was added when Western culture or Japan came to Japan; 4. 4. Japan is a country that is not so fussy and will take in anything (as long as it doesn’t affect the soul), so there are a lot of crazier dishes. 6. this is different, the Japanese used to eat a lot of wild boar food (pork), and they also used to eat a lot of chicken. 7. They also ate birds. 7. Compared to the mainland, Japan is much more humid and things rot quickly. The Japanese are sensitive to dirt.8. Customs are like those of old Rome.12. The Japanese are the most air-reading people in the world.13. If they did not read the air, they would not be able to live in Japan. This is the reason for Japan’s unique culture, but it also makes Japanese people suffer. 17. Japanese people dislike noise, not only on trains but everywhere. They are brought up that way. So they are not trained to argue, so they are not good at diplomatic negotiations.
    18. They are forcibly restrained in this way, but they are human beings just like the rest of the world. Only when it is time for alcohol is “reading the air” allowed to release the noise.20. A closed door means that no one is there, and curtains and postings out the door mean that it is under control.21. Courtesy comes first in this country, so courtesy is laced into the service in any place. 21. 22. Stabbing food with chopsticks is reserved for the dead who cannot control their fingers. The food that has been stabbed with chopsticks is used as an offering to the dead. The living are expected to control their chopsticks well.23. The culture forces the whole country to “read the air” and there is a big gap between the public and the private. Since we are all human beings after all, it is impossible for all of us to always keep ourselves in check. In a country with few resources and a long history of natural disasters, Japanese people have had to work for generations to survive as a people.
    25. The national costume is made in a cold, resource-poor country, so the insulation is weak and can only be used in the summer for modern people. Winter kimonos have to be worn in layers to keep out the cold, which is very time-consuming.26. If you do not have expertise, you are not needed by society, so you are raised to study hard so that you can always improve.27. Children often died in Japan where resources are scarce, so to live this long at the age of 3, 5, or 7 years old is a great achievement. It was an ancient custom for children and their parents to report to God at the age of 3, 5, or 7 that they had made it this far in life. This has now taken root as a commercial activity.28. In Japan, the principle principle-based approach is that the fertilization stage is considered zero years old, so the child is one year old by the time it is born.

    I am Japanese, so please forgive me if my English is a little strange.
    I hope to make some progress in understanding this strange country, Japan.

Leave a Comment