Japan’s Unique Culture

Meera Jakhar

Japan is known worldwide for its traditional arts, including tea ceremonies, calligraphy, and flower arranging. The country has a legacy of distinctive gardens, sculptures, and poetry.
It is home to more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites and is the birthplace of sushi, one of its most famous culinary exports.

Japan has a rich and colorful culture dating back to the country’s prehistoric period, known as the Jōmon period between c.14,000-300 BCE. Japan’s reputation for its distinctive culture arises from its island-nation geography and its isolation from the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate regime. Many aspects have developed utterly unaffected by outside influences. But there are so many more reasons why Japan is such a unique country.

Here are five facts and etiquette in Japan that make its cultures and traditions unique.

1. Bowing - Japanese Etiquette

Bowing (known as ojigi) is the traditional form of greeting in Japan. However, bowing can also be used to indicate gratitude, congratulations, or an apology. In casual daily situations, a bow is often a simple nod of the head. Meanwhile, a longer and deeper bow is more respectful and can signify a formal apology or sincere thanks.

The duration and inclination of the bow are proportionate to the elevation of the person you’re addressing. For example, a friend might get a lightning-fast 15-degree bow while an office superior might get a slow, extended, 45-degree bow.

2. Table Manners - Chopsticks

Table Manners are highly regarded in Japanese culture, and correctly using chopsticks is an essential part of polite dining etiquette.

When using chopsticks in Japan, you do not stab or cut your food with them. Instead, you should lift the food as it is to your mouth. Pointing at someone or something with your chopsticks is a massive no in Japan, as this is rude in Japanese culture. Not only that, but you should never leave your chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice, as this is associated with funeral customs.

Instead, place them on the chopstick rest in between bites or when you finish eating.

3. Tipping in Japan

Tipping is not customary in Japan. It can be considered rude and insulting in many situations. Most Japanese restaurants require customers to pay for their meals at the front register rather than leave money with the waiter or waitress.

If you are in a large area like Tokyo and can’t speak any Japanese, a waiter or waitress might take the extra money you happen to leave rather than force themselves to deal with the awkward situation of explaining the concept of no tipping in broken English.

Just remind yourself: a price is a price.

4. Threshold- Bathroom slippers

There is typically an area inside the front door in Japanese homes, known as genkan, where people swap their shoes for house slippers. Although this may sound different, people familiar with Japanese customs may already know this. Still, something else that is very different in Japan is that going to the bathroom involves changing slippers again, as cleanliness is an inherent part of Japanese culture. The most important thing to remember is to swap slippers again as soon as you leave the bathroom.

5. Masks on Streets

Even before the coronavirus, sterilized masks, like the ones you’d see in the emergency room, are commonly used to protect other people from their germs. When you suffer from a cold or hay fever in Japan, it’s polite to wear a mask.

It’s rather sensible when you think about it, as masks do not protect the wearer as much as those around them. The reason could be anything from a slight cold to simply being worried about exposing other people.

These exciting facts, unique culture, and etiquette about Japan are just a taster of all there is to learn about the nation’s culture. In Japan, cutting-edge trends sit side by side with ancient traditions. This dynamic cultural mix is part of what makes it such an exciting country to explore. And don’t worry if you end up forgetting some of these etiquettes, Japanese people are generally very polite regardless of whether you are a friend or a stranger. They will always be there to help out.