Curious about Facts about Japanese culture?
Japanese culture is often referred to “unique” and “distinct” from other parts of the world, especially western countries. There are habits, customs, traditions, and ways of thinking observed only in Japan, which catch many people’s interests.
Japan is a country surrounded by the ocean, and not many contacts with other countries enabled Japan to develop cultures inside the country, which made Japanese culture distinct.
Here we introduce 25 curious facts about Japanese culture which you may have not known.
1.Four different writing systems
Japanese language has four different writing systems: hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji.
Hiragana; Normal Japanese character used with kanji for native Japanese words and grammar
Katakana; Japanese character used for writing foreign words
Kanji; Originally Chinese character but adjusted to the Japanese tyle
Romaji; Romanized spelling
Japanese people combine those four writing systems when writing sentences.
In Japan, wherever you walk around, you will find vending machines like every 200 meters. In fact, there are more than five million vending machines in Japan, the kinds of which include beverages, tobacco, alcohol, food, newspaper and lots more. Especially, the number of vending machines selling beverages is about 2.6 million.
Why so many vending machines in Japan?
One of the reasons is it is convenient for busy office workers. Japanese office workers are known to be too busy to stop by coffee shops. So vending machine is like an oasis for such busy workers.
The variety of options would be another reason. From drinks to food, even newspaper can be purchased in vending machines.
3.Trains in a rush hour are crazy
The trains in a rush hour are so packed that people even do not have to stand on their own feet. Commuting by car is not common in Japan, so most office workers and schoolers commute by trains. If you go to train stations in a rush hour, you will see train officers push people into the train cars.
A capsule hotel is a type of hotel with a large number of rooms (literally like a capsule). Capsule hotels were developed to provide cheap, basic overnight accommodation for guests who do not expect high-quality services offered by conventional hotels.
Facilities differ, but most capsule hotels are equipped with a television, an electronic console, and wireless internet connection. For privacy, each capsule can be closed with a curtain or a door.
Capsule hotels can be found mainly in big cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The price is around \2000~4000 ($18~37) per night.
Toilets in Japan would be ranked within the top three in “the surprising things in Japan ranking”. They are featured with an auto-lifting cover, built-in bidet, warm seats, dryers, and flushing sounds that diminishes the embarrassing sounds which one makes in the bathroom.
Those high-tech toilets are found not only in hotels or restaurants, but also at home! When building a new house, most people choose the high-tech toilets, and those who have normal toilets at home change them to the high-tech ones.
6.Convenience store has everything you need
Convenience stores are everywhere in Japan, especially in the cities, you will find them every five minutes.
As the name indicates, convenience store in Japan is literally convenient. It is not the place where you grab your snacks or drinks anymore- it serves customers many more handy uses! So convenience stores will be your first aid when you get in trouble while traveling Japan.
You can get all of the followings at the convenience stores;
-food (includes bento (boxed lunch), bread, rice ball, sweets, …etc.)
-beverages (even alcohol drinks!)
-books and magazines
-clothes(underwear, shirt, necktie, accessories… etc.)
-amenities (toothbrush, shampoo, …etc.)
ATM and free wi-fi are also available in almost all convenience stores. More surprisingly, you can print out any types of tickets by yourself with a machine!
How would you describe Japanese convenience stores other than “convenient”?
7. One of the safest countries in the world
Japan is known to be one of the safest countries in the world.
How much safe is it? Well, crime rate is less than 10 percent- the second lowest number in OECD countries, following Spain.
There will be lots of situations which would surprise you, but all of them are common sights for Japanese people- elementary school kids on the trains without parents, people leaving things to take seats at restaurants, women walking on the street late at night, and so on.
There are cafes featuring that you can play with animals while enjoying drinks and sweets. The most common type is cat cafe, but also there are dog cafes, rabbit cafes, owl cafes, and many more. The price is about \1000~1500 ($9~14) an hour.
If you are fan of animals, animal cafe should be in your to-do list during your stay in Japan.
9.Anime is huge
As you may know, anime is such a big thing in Japan. Animated output both for films and television accounts for 60% of the world’s animation, and there are 130 schools for anime voice acting in Japan. As well as small kids, teenagers and adults watch animes.
Many shops specializing anime goods are located across Japan, and museums featured with anime are the landmark in some regions. These days, some cafes collaborate with anime, releasing special menu.
10.Taking off shoes when entering the house
Japanese people take off the shoes when entering the house.
You face a small space right in front of you when opening the door. That is called genkan, where you take off your shoes, and wear slippers.
However, slippers should be taken off when entering the tatami (straw mat) room not to damage the delicate straw mats. Also, when you use the bathroom, you should change the slippers to the ones provided in the bathroom.
11.Japanese people bathe themselves in the bathtub every night
Japanese bath culture may be different from the rest of the world.
Japanese people fill up the bathtub with warm water, and they bathe themselves in it every night. Japanese bathroom is composed of two areas (bathtub and where you wash yourself), so after bathing themselves in the tub for about 10 minutes, they wash themselves in the washing area right next to the bathtub.
Bathing is thought to release stress, and thought to recover from fatigue. Also, bathtime is a relaxing time in a day for many Japanese people. So Japanese bath is one of the things that Japanese people miss when they are out of Japan for a long time.
12.Japanese schools have “cleaning time” everyday
In most Japanese schools, from elementary school to high school, students clean their classrooms and other common rooms everyday. This practice is aimed at the educational purposes, based on the thoughts that cleaning the school by students themselves would nurture the practice of keeping things clean, working with peers, having the responsibilities for given roles, and so on.
13.The national sport is sumo
Japanese national sport is sumo, whose origin dates back to 23 b.c. Two rikishis (sumo wrestlers) fight each other in a circular ring, trying to push the other out of it or to force him into touching the ground with any parts of the body other than the soles.
Sumo now is described as one of the martial arts and a national sport of Japan, but was originally a Shinto ritual, so sumo game still includes several religious rituals, such as purification.
14.Christmas is a day for couples
What you imagine about Christmas would be staying at home with your family. But , that image never comes up to Japanese people’s minds.
Christmas in Japan is a day for couples. They spend Christmas day together dressed up a little bit gorgeously, going to see the Christmas lights, eating dinner, going shopping, and so on. Tokyo Disney Resort is a popular destination for the Christmas date.
15.Culture of “Omiyage”
Omiyage is a present or souvenir that people buy for family, friends, and coworkers on the way returning home from the trip.
When you go to sightseeing spots, local shops are filled with bunch of omiyage. Omiyage indicates goods that are special to the region- melon flavored sweets in Hokkaido, for example. While some goods are for the individuals like mug cups or postcards, many goods especially sweets are sold to be shared. Sweets are packed one by one so that they are easily given.
16.Most restaurants do not offer customers “Take-out box”
When you cannot finish the food at a restaurant, you would ask for a box to go, right? But to-go-box culture is not common in Japan.
You might feel it is inconvenient and think it produces a lot of food loss, but since the portion of food in Japanese restaurants is small enough to finish, you do not need the box in the first place.
17.Holding dishes is good manners
Holding dishes when eating in your country is odd, or bad manners. But it is opposite in Japan; holding dishes shows your good manners. On the contrary, eating food with the dish on the table is seen as rude and uneducated, often referred as “inu-gui” (eating like a dog).
18.Typical sushi in Japan is different from what you may encounter in other parts of the world
Sushi you imagine would be rolled sushi like California rolls, and typical sushi served at Japanese restaurants in the world would mainly be rolled sushi.
But, when Japanese people imagine sushi, the first image of sushi that comes up to mind is not rolled sushi, but nigiri-zushi.
Nigiri zushi is made with raw/cooked fish atop vinegared rice. Nigiri zushi is mainly served at sushi restaurants in Japan, and rolled sushi is not a mainstream. If you try sushi in Japan, your image towards sushi will be changed.
For more detail about Japanese sushi, check out this page; Nigiri vs. Sashimi; What’s the difference?
19.Slurping noodle is totally fine
Slurping noodle is considered to be rude in many parts of the world, but in Japan, sucking up noodles with a slurping sound is not a problem.
Of course, making a noise when eating food is impolite in Japanese table manners, but noodle is an exception.
In the Edo period, about 400 years ago, soba (buckwheat noodle) was eaten as fast food among general public, so it did not require high-class table manners. Also, Japanese noodles (soba, udon, and ramen) can be fully enjoyed when noodles and soup eaten together, and slurping is the way to make it possible.
This is the answer to the mystery of Japanese slurping-noodle culture.
The culture of tipping does not exist in any places in Japan.
Being polite to the others is highly considered as important in Japanese society, and this mindset is nurtured from a childhood. When it comes to services, it is the same; being polite to customers and offering good services for customers’ comfort is considered to be normal regardless of receiving the tip or not.
21.Being humble is important
One of the characteristics of Japanese people is being humble.
Being humble, and not showing that you are proud of yourself about what you have accomplished or your skills is very important in Japanese society.
Long time ago, Japanese people were living in small villages and worked together, so it was necessary to live keeping good relationships with the community members. Avoiding conflicts with neighbours was a key to live in a small village.
In this situation, sticking up from the others or boasting oneself looks arrogant to the others. Then, being humble enables the one to be in the same level as the others.
So, Japanese people being humble are not negative about themselves. That mindset is rooted in old Japanese society.
22.Be on time
Have you ever heard of Japanese train staffs apologizing for just one or two-minute delay?
Punctuality is one of the things that is considered to be important in Japan.
If you meet someone, it is normal to arrive at the meeting point five or ten minutes before the appointed time. Japanese people practice the panctuarity from elementary school.
Teachers tell students to do “ten minutes before actions” when students have to gather somewhere, which means “Be there ten minutes before the scheduled time”.
Being late makes someone wait long, and detters the schedule to proceed on the planned time.
So, if you have an appointment with Japanese people, it is good to be on time, or five minutes before, much better!
A typical question Japanese people ask when meeting a new people is their age, because the age is an important factor in interpersonal relationships.
The reason why age matters in interpersonal relationships is due to the Japanese language.
In Japanese language, there is “keigo” which someone uses to the other who is older than him/her. If the younger one speaks to the older one without using keigo, it is extremely rude.
To tell whether they should use keigo or not, Japanese people ask the other person’s age when meeting someone new.
24.Bowing is a way to show respect
You might have seen a situation that Japanese people bow when greeting each other, welcoming someone, showing gratitude, and so on. The culture of bowing came from Buddhism as a means of showing respect and gratitude for Buddha, and it has become an ordinary custom.
When bowing, one’s head comes lower than the other’s head. Lowering one’s head than the other’s indicates that the one bowing is not in the higher position than the other one, which leads to show respect to the person whom the one is bowing to.
25. Indirect speech
Japanese people are often said to be shy; they do not say what they are feeling/thinking. However, you think so maybe because you do notice “cues” that Japanese people present in conversations.
Japanese people avoid direct speech especially when it comes to negative matter. “I do not think that shirt looks good on you.””This is not good (to dishes someone made).” Telling your negative thoughts about something directly embarrass the others.
That is why Japanese people say negative feelings in a way that would not hurt the others, or making them notice their thoughts with nonverbal languages such as facial expressions. Such indirect signs may be difficult to catch, but it is an important social skill.