Japan is one of the leading nations in technology and innovation. The home of manga, our favorite animes, and ‘Hello Kitty.’ It’s also home to a lot of peculiar traditions and vibrant culture. Japan doesn’t do halfsies here; culture is submerging and may seem a bit too much to newcomers. That's why if you're looking to do business there, we recommend seeking professional Japanese localization services.
But do not feel overwhelmed; we’re here to help you out. We’ve picked out a few of the numerous quirky customs you might encounter in Japan.
1. Naki Sumo Contest
More like a ‘scare the baby silly’ contest. The Naki Sumo contest is a festival where parents give their babies to sumo wrestlers gathered for the ultimate purpose of frightening the kids and getting them bawling. They do this by wearing scary masks, or just plain screaming in the faces of the babies. This contest is an age-long tradition, and the sobs of the children are believed to drive nearby demons away and bring good luck to the baby with the loudest cry.
2. Work Hard, Sleep Hard
In Japan, sleeping on the job is not only acceptable; it’s commended. The Japanese believe that a little snooze at work or in school means you’ve worked very hard. This practice is called inemuri. Some companies even have specially scheduled siestas for their employees ‒ “announcement! Naptime in the HR department.”
3. Don't Tip
Not tipping may seem very weird to foreigners coming to Japan for the first time, but it’s seen as rude if you tip a waiter, delivery guy, or any worker for their services. They feel insulted that you’re offering more money for a service that has been covered by the bill or price. So stash your cash and DO NOT TIP in Japan; it’s rude.
Ever been given a wet willy? Remember that wet, sticky, icky feeling in your ear, but imagine it in your buttocks this time. Yep, you may be pranked this way in Japan. It is called the Kancho prank and involves holding the hands together in the shape of a gun and sticking the protruding fingers in the rear of an unsuspecting victim. No, they do not strip you naked; it’s done through your clothing. Watch your back, protect your derriere.
5. Always Kampai
When served drinks at a dinner party or something, you don’t gulp down your glass immediately, no matter how thirsty you are. You have to wait until everyone is served. Then someone gives a speech or toast and yells ‘Kampai!’ which is basically the equivalent of cheers. You have to reply kampai too, and it’s considered rude if you don’t. After this, you all can drink. Another remarkable dining etiquette is that you’re allowed to slurp, especially if it’s noodles. It shows you’re enjoying your meal.
6. Burn them, Burn them all!
During the New Year in Japan, people buy a lot of good luck charms to bring them well, good luck. And it’s considered bad luck to keep these ornaments for more than a year, they have to go. You just don’t throw them away; that’s bad luck too ‒ yeah, they’re pretty hooked on the luck stuff ‒ instead, they are all gathered and set ablaze in this fantastic festival called Dondo Yaki. Talk about a huge bonfire!
7. You Have to Bow.. a Lot
The Japanese accompany their greeting with bowing, lots of it. Bowing is very important in Japan, and has different kinds for different occasions and people. The Japanese value respect, and historically, bowing meant putting yourself in a position of vulnerability in front of the other person‒ the ultimate symbol of trust and respect. Bowing may differ from a slight bow to friends and classmates to a deep bow for superiors.
8. KFC Christmas
Ah, Christmas! A time of magic, lights, snow, and in Japan, long queues at the local KFC fast-food. It is now traditional for families to treat themselves to a sumptuous bucket of KFC fried chicken, or if you can find one, ‒you have to be extremely lucky‒ delicious turkey. In other cultures, bringing fast food home in the yuletide season might earn you angry looks and an earful, but in Japan, you’re given hugs. The custom began when a KFC manager overheard foreigners talking about how they missed having a lovely turkey for Christmas (turkeys aren’t common in Japan) and thought that an excellent substitute would be a special Christmas barrel of fried chicken.
9. Isolation Job
Japan has stringent labour laws. If a company wanted to sack an employee, they would be mandated by law to doll out a considerable severance package for the fired employee – especially if there’s no reason or rhyme to the pink slip.
This has become a sort of problem for companies in Japan who need to sack certain workers but don’t want to pay the cash. To solve this, they put such employees in isolated rooms, and tell them to do monotonous and mind-numbing tasks. This is in the hopes that they’ll soon get bored out of their minds and quit their jobs. Voluntary resignation means no severance package, which is fine in their book.
10. Schoolkids Clean Up after Themselves
There are no janitors in Japan’s schools, nope. Unlike most western schools, Japanese school children are the ones responsible for keeping their school and its surroundings clean. Sometimes this is extended beyond the school. A few times in a year, students come down en masse to the neighbourhood where their school is situated and do a full cleanup. This tradition is meant to foster the spirit of responsibility in young children. And teach them to care for the environment and others.
There are so many more bizarre and incredible Japanese practices that we could spend all day talking about, but how about seeing for yourself? You could peg in Japan when discussing your next holiday trip, and experience the culture firsthand. If you decide to go, remember to brush up on your chopstick game, and have fun!