Many travelers from all over the world are intrigued by Japanese culture. Its unique culture, different traditions as well as the wonderful things that could only be found in Japan makes it a favorite destination of travelers. You could say that Japan is a land of extremes. You’ll find that they adhere to age-old traditions but also have a fondness for most things popular and trendy. In some things, the Japanese are even trendsetters and innovators. From food to fashion, festivals, beliefs, music, and technology, here’s a look at some of the fun facts about Japanese culture that will be enough to impel you to want to discover them yourself.
The Japanese celebrate various festivals throughout the year. Some are very popular with locals while many more have become famous and attended by locals and foreign tourists. One of the most famous is the Gion Festival in Kyoto that is celebrated in the whole month of July. The highlight of the festival is the Yamaboko, a procession of 32 huge floats that usually happens around July 17. The floats are decorated with precious tapestries, statues, and carvings, featuring the scenes from Japanese plays or literature, Chinese and Japanese history and Shinto or Buddhist religions. The biggest among the floats, a 25-meter high float that weighs about 10 tons requires 100 men to pull it.
About 400 years ago, a Japanese traditional dance festival, the Awa Odori was started in Tokushima. About 1,000 male and female dancers (ren) participate in the traditional street dance. Music is provided by bells, flutes, drums, and shamisen. This year, Awa Odori takes place from August 12 to 15.
There is no doubt that when it comes to technology, Japan is one of the top leaders. Due to its history of isolation, much of Japanese culture developed without outside influence. The country relied on its own resources, depending on its own skills and creativity, turning them into technological innovators.
Japan has created various types of robots, many of which you can view at Robosquare in Fukuoka. You’ll find robots that can conduct conversations like the Hello Kitty Robo or responsive robots you can play with. You can stroke the soft fur covering the body of Paro, a robot used for mental therapy. Among the collections are Sony’s AIBO dogs, the robot pets and various types of everyday robots. Japan has several humanoid robots, such as Pepper that help sell coffee makers. Aiko Chihira, a humanoid robot dressed in a traditional kimono greets shoppers at the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo. Chihira can be programmed to speak in other languages. By the way, have you seen Erica, the stunning conversational humanoid created by Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories?
Castles and shrines
Japan still has several castles and shrines that attest to its glorious past. Aside from their history, you can also marvel at the stunning architectural designs of these shrines and castles. Most of them have beautiful gardens as well. Two hours from Tokyo is the Matsumoto Castle or Black Crow, which was built on flat land. The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is a must-visit, especially in the spring when the cherry trees are in bloom. One of the most beautiful Japanese castles is the Nagoya Castle. On top of its roof are two dolphin-like statues that are painted in gold.
Osaka Castle is famous for its defensive structure. It played a huge role in the unification of Japan. The Okayama Castle is another black-painted castle with a picturesque surrounding. Providing contrast is the white-as-clouds Himeji Castle (White Heron Castle) that elegantly sits on a hilltop in Himeji Prefecture. It’s the most spectacular castle in Japan. It was never destroyed by fire, earthquake or wars, unlike the other castles.
Religion plays a big role in Japanese culture. In fact, about 100,000 Shinto shrines could be found across Japan. The country also has quite a large number of Buddhist temples that feature four main architectural styles. Three styles, Wayō, Daibutsuyō, and Zenshūyō are based on contemporary Chinese architecture while the fourth one, Setchūyō is a Japanese style that developed from the fusion of different elements from the first three styles.
Anime and manga
If you’re a fan of anime and manga, then you should not miss visiting Japan. Several places in Japan are havens for fans. Ten of the best areas include the Tokyo Character Street in Tokyo Station with 21 stores. Nakano Broadway in Tokyo is a shopping center that is considered a haven for manga and anime collectors. When you visit Akibahara in Tokyo, you might not want to leave. Here you’ll find K-Books, the 8-floor Mandarake shop and Animate among others, where stores sell everything related to manga, anime, toys, games and cosplay costumes.
Manga has been a part of Japanese culture since the 12th century. Anime on the other is a more recent invention that started around 1917. Considered the fathers of anime are Japanese animators Seitaro Kitayama, Jun’ichi Kōuchi and Ōten Shimokawa.
When you think of Japanese culture, you think of Japanese cuisine. Authentic Japanese food is absolutely delicious. You have to try the different varieties of Japanese sushi. Japanese sashimi may take some getting used to if you are not fond of raw fish and seafood. Eating sashimi started in Japan about 500 BCE. It is now deeply entrenched in the Japanese diet. Several types of fish are used for sashimi. Most are served raw while some are boiled or lightly grilled. The most popular is the Skipjack Tuna, which is also called Bonito or Katsuo. One of the most delicious is Sake or Salmon. Other types include Maguro or Bluefin Tuna, Ahi or Yellowfin Tuna, Engawa or Halibut, Hotate or Scallops, Ebi or Sweet Shrimps.
Don’t look down on Japanese noodles or you’ll miss its unique taste. You could say that ‘ramen is life in Japan.’ Several places across Japan have their own regional ramen specialties. Sapporo is famous for its Miso Ramen that is topped with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and roasted chashu pork. Fukuoka has the Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen that has sesame seeds, garlic, pickled ginger and roasted pork cut in thick slices for toppings. Hakodate Ramen is from Hakodate, Hokkaido’s seaport city. Its clear broth is made from kelp, seafood, pork and chicken, a combination of flavors like no other. It’s often topped with bamboo strips, scallions, spinach or dried seaweed (nori) and a few slices of roasted pork.
You also have to try the Japanese soba, tempura, yakitori, okonomiyaki and Japanese green tea (matcha) with wagashi (Japanese traditional sweets in a variety of beautiful shapes and colors).
Bowing is an ingrained trait
Bowing is not just about lowering your head for the Japanese. It is a sign of respect that is deeply ingrained in them. In Japanese culture, respect for people and things is taught at a very early age. Children are taught at early to bow to elders. It is believed that bowing started around 538-794 AD during the Nara and Asuka periods when Chinese Buddhism was introduced. The religion taught people that they have to be in a more vulnerable position when they meet someone of higher status. In modern Japan, bowing is used in different functions such as:
- To say hello or goodbye to an acquaintance
- To start or end a meeting, ceremony or class
- To give thanks to someone
- To apologize
- To congratulate
- To ask for goodwill or favor from someone
- To worship something or someone
There are two basic bowing positions: sitting or ‘seiza’ and standing or ‘seiritsu.’ In making a bow, the back should be kept straight.
Different types of bows are used for informal (casual) and formal occasions. For modern Japanese, they can do a ‘mokurei’ or a slight nod of the head together with a smile. It is written as 目礼.But this has a homophone, written as 黙礼 that also means mokurei. There is no bowing with this one, which is why it is called a silent bow. The person only moves the head slightly and smiles.
The ‘eshaku’ is a 15-degree bow from any of the starting position. This is a greeting bow given to someone of equal social or business rank. The polite bow or ‘senrei’ is a 30-degree bow performed in semi-formal occasions when you have to show a moderate level of respect or gratitude.
The respect bow is a 30-degree or 45-degree bow that is called ‘futsuurei’ or ‘keirei.’ This is performed when you interact or meet with someone of higher standing, such as in-laws or bosses.
Visitors and foreigners are not expected to perform the ‘saikeirei,’ which is the 45- to 70-degree deeply reverent bow to show deep regret or respect. It is mostly done in front of emperors or for a dramatic apology.
When you visit a Shinto shrine, you are required to give the ‘nirei-nihakushu’ bow or the worship bow. It is like a ‘keirei’ bow but you initially do 2 bows, clap your hand twice and do a saikeirei bow once.
Although often only seen in movies and dramas nowadays, a ‘dogeza’ is a groveling vow that literally expresses begging for your life to be spared. You can see this type of bow when you watch dramas and movies with yakuza or samurai theme.
These are just some of the things you can see, taste and experience in Japan. There are a lot more to discover during your trip, such as sleeping in a capsule hotel or figuring out how to use the Japanese Washlet (electronic toilet). It’s a one of a kind adventure that will definitely leave an indelible mark in your travel memories.
Learning the Japanese Language
Japanese is a language that many foreigners find difficult to learn. The various homophones, the different writing systems and it not being related to any other language can make life very confusing for language learners.
You do not have to learn Japanese to have accurate translations from and into Japanese. You can rely on the expertise of our experienced in-country translators who are native speakers of Japanese. Whatever type of document you want to be translated, Day Translations, Inc. is ready to cater to your requirements. We are open 24/7, every day of the year so you can have your documents translated at any time of the day, wherever you are located. Call us at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us.
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