The Japanese Culture

Table Manners

  • Say “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”) before eating, and “gochisosama (deshita)” (“Thank you for the meal”) after finishing the meal.
  • Being that the use of chopsticks is the most fundamental element in Japan, the incorrect usage of chopsticks is considered bad manners.
  • Blowing your nose in public, and especially at the table, is considered bad manners.
  • It is considered good manners to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice.
  • Talking about toilet related and similarly unappetizing topics during or before a meal is not appreciated by most people.
  • It is considered bad manner to burp.
  • After eating, try to move all your dishes back to the same position they were at the start of the meal. This includes replacing the lids on dishes and putting your chopsticks on the chopstick holder or back into their paper slip.

Family Values

  • They respect and care for elders and value them as critical members in society.
  • Silence is important. Those who say very little are considered credible. Their non-verbal cues and communication are more important than verbal communication.
  • Family members are put before others in society.
  • Education is highly valued in Japanese society. It will eventually help determine one’s social position and status.

Popular Japanese Foods

Sushi, rice, green tea, ramen, wasabi, tempura, tofu, vegetables, korokke, and curry are just a few popular foods in Japan.

Music

The Japanese music history is very rich. The traditional instruments such as shamisen in which resembles a guitar, shakuhachi in which is a flute made out of bamboo, and the koto which is a large wooden instrument with 13 strings. People do not use these instruments anymore for music of enjoyment. Now days, Japanese music consists of rock, pop, and modern music by Japanese artists. 

Sports

There are a variety of sports played in Japan. The most popular and traditional sport is martial arts as well as sumo which is Japan’s national sport. Sports such as football (soccer), baseball, and cheerleading have been imported to Japan. When weather permits, many Japanese go to the sea for sports such as surfing and swimming.

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Japan’s Family Structure

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Japan’s family structure varies from household to household. In an ideal Japanese family, the oldest son inheriting the position of the head of household.  In modern Japan, the continuing of family is still important, but things have been modified significantly. The absolute authority of the head of the house is over, and since children now choose their future occupations freely, less is made of an eldest son as the potential successor. Women are still the prime caretakers, and much of the time give up their careers to take on taking are of the child as a full-time job. However, more Japanese women now have a career and a family. Japan’s family structure has evolved significantly. 

  • Agricultural Age Family/Household:

    Extended family: several generations living and working together on the land.

  • Industrial Age Family/Household:

    Nuclear family: father working, mother at home not working, and approximately two children—for middle and upper classes in developed West. Also nuclear family in lower class West and socilalist countries—except that women worked.

  • Information Age Family/Household:

    Multiple family patterns: no one model everyone must follow to be socially accepted. Examples include: married couples with or without children; unmarried couples living together; single parents; divorced parents with children who remarry, making children part of different households; single-person households; people living in groups; gay and lesbian couples; etc.

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Japan’s Economy

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Japan is one of the most developed nations in the world on an economic perspective. Its three trade partners are China, United States, and South Korea. Their three main exported goods consist of motor vehicles and parts, industrial machinery, and electrical machinery. Brands such as Toyota, Fujifilm, and Sony natives of Japan. Manufacturing is one of Japan’s strengths as they lack natural resources. Japan’s robotics field is promising for future economic growth as Japanese technology leads the world. One agriculture export good that is prevalent in Japan is rice, but due to the little land that Japan has, most of their food is imported into their country. However, they have an abundant amount of marine resources due to the body of water that surrounds the country. Japan’s transportation system is very well-developed as they have railways in every part of their country as well as advanced air and sea services. The yen is the unit of currency in Japan. There are four kinds of bills (10,000 yen, 5,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 1,000 yen) and six kinds of coins (500 yen, 100 yen, 50 yen, 10 yen, 5 yen, 1 yen) used. All of the bills and coins are different sizes. 

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The Japanese Educational System

Before the World War II, the educational system consisted of six years of elementary school, five years of junior high school, three years of senior high school, and four years of university education. After the WWII, it was changed to 6 years of elementary school, 3 years of junior high school, 3 years of senior high school and 4 years of University with reference to the American system. Japan has one of the best educational systems in the world. They have 100% enrollment and zero illiteracy. Almost 50% of their high school students graduate and go to a University. The Ministry of Education supervises the curriculum and textbooks to ensure that the country is on a uniformed level. Schools operate on a three-term school year, with the new year beginning in April. The average school day on weekdays is about 6 hours. Students often have homework on their winter and spring vacations which are about two weeks a piece. The classroom size does not exceed over 40 students. Lunch is provided by the school and eaten in the classroom and not in a cafeteria. Most, if not all schools require their students to wear uniforms.

Japanese Religions

The two prominent religions in Japan are the Buddhist and Shinto religion. Shinto is the original religion and the Buddhist religion was imported in the 6th century from China and Korea. Ever since the Buddhist religion was imported, the two religions and meshed together and complimented each other. Most Japanese consider themselves either one or both of the religions. Most people in Japan do not implement their religion in everyday life, but they do implement it during special occasions such as weddings, birth, and funerals. The Shinto religion does not have a founder or any scriptures that the people go by. Their “Shinto Gods” are called kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami. Many Japanese festivals, or matsuri, originated from early Shinto rituals. These festivals often symbolize hope for abundant rice production or spiritual health of the community. The festivals are often done inside a Shinto Shrine, or display some form or image of a Shrine. Many of these festivals can stretch for over several days. These usually include processions that bear an image of the local Kami through crowded streets to the sound of drums and flutes. The festivities vary with different locals, but they all have similar features: energy, noise, food, and exultation. This is an opportunity members of the local community to celebrate a joyful occasion together.

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Japan’s Government

Japan’s current Emperor Akihoto.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. The Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state. The Japanese parliament is called the Diet. It consists of the House of Representatives (480 members) and the House of Councillors (242 members). The members of the Diet are elected by the Japanese people. The cabinet is headed by the Prime Minister. The cabinet further consists of the ministers which are appointed by the prime minister and are usually members of the Diet. The prime minister is elected by the Diet. The highest court is the Supreme Court. Other courts are district courts, high courts, family courts, and summary courts. Judges are appointed by the cabinet.The minimum voting age is 20 years. Women received the right to vote with the postwar constitution. Elections for the House of Representatives are carried out every four years, and half of the House of Councillors is elected every three years. Beside the national elections there are prefectural and municipal elections.

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Top 10 Tourist Attractions

1. Golden Pavilion: The Golden Pavilion is the most popular tourist attraction in Japan and Kyoto. The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 14th century.  Emphasis is placed on the building and surrounding gardens being in harmony with one another. The pavilion is covered in gold leaf which highlights the reflection of the pavilion in the pond and the pond’s reflection on the building.

2. Mount Fuji: Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776 meters (12,388 ft). The volcano’s exceptionally symmetrical cone is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as a popular tourist attraction for sightseers and climbers. An estimated 200,000 people climb Mount Fuji every year, 30% of whom are foreigners. The ascent can take anywhere between three and eight hours while the descent can take from two to five hours.

3. Tokyo Imperial Palace: The Emperor of Japan makes his home at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It also functions as an administration center and museum to showcase Japanese art and history. The new palace is surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens and has many reception and function rooms to receive guests and welcome the public.

4. Tokyo Tower: The Tokyo Tower’s design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower. It is the second tallest man-made structure in Japan and functions as a communications and observation tower. Visitors can climb the tower for unparalleled views of Tokyo and the surrounding areas as well as visit shops and restaurants.

5. Todaiji Temple: This is not only the world’s largest wooden building, it is also home to the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and wildlife, the Kegon school of Buddhism is centered here and the grounds hold many artifacts of Japanese and Buddhist history. Deer are allowed to freely roam the grounds as messengers of the Shinto gods.

6. Great Buddha of Kamakura: This statue is a representation of Amida Buddha, one of Japan’s most celebrated Buddhist figures. Cast in bronze, the Great Buddha stands at over 13 meters (40 feet) high and weighs nearly 93 tons. The statue reportedly dates from 1252. Although it originally was housed in a small wooden temple, the Great Buddha now stands in the open air as the original temple was washed away in a tsunami in the 15th century.

7. Himeji Castle: The Himeji Castle is considered the best existing example of Japanese castle architecture. It was fortified to defend against enemies during the feudal period, but it has been rebuilt many times throughout the centuries and reflects the different design periods. It survived the bombings of World War II and is frequently seen in domestic and foreign films, including the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice”. 

8. Kiyomizu-dera: The Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple is located in Eastern Kyoto and can be traced back as far as the year 798. An indoor waterfall fed from the outside river keeps the temple in harmony with nature and not one nail was used in construction. While locals used to jump off the edge to have a wish granted (with a survival rate of 85.4%), modern visitors can enjoy the shrines and talismans and artwork on display without risking life and limb.

9. Jigokudani Monkey Park: The name Jigokudani (meaning “Hell’s Valley”), is due to steam and boiling water that bubbles out the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold forests. It is famous for its large population of wild Snow Monkeys that go to the valley during the winter when snow covers the park. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm hot springs, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings.

10. Hiroshima Memorial Park: The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is a haunting tribute to the lives lost when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Set in a park, the memorial features Genbaku Dome, the only building left standing in the vicinity after the bomb dropped. This harsh reminder of a world at war reminds visitors of the importance of human life and honors the victims so they will never be forgotten.

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Important Japanese Holidays

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New Year (Shogatsu): This holiday is January 1 and is the most important holiday of the year. Many businesses observe this holiday up until January 3.

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Coming of Age (Seijin no hi): This holiday is celbrated on the second Monday of January. People who turn twenty on that year are celebrated on this day. Twenty is considered the age of adulthood and is also when adults are eligible to smoke, drink, and vote.

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National Foundation Day (Kenkoku kinenbi): This holiday is celebrated on February 11. On this day, in the year 660 B.C., the first emperor was crowned.

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Showa Day (Showa no hi): April 29th is the former Emperor Showa’s birthday. This holiday is celebrated during Golden Week*.

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Constitution Day (Kenpo kinenbi): May 3rd is reserved to remember and celebrate the constitution that was put into effect after the war.This day is celebrated during Golden Week*.

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Greenery Day (Midori no hi): This day used to be celebrated on emperor Showa’s birthday (April 29th) but is now celebrated on May 4th. This day is dedicated to the environment and the nature of Japan because emperor Showa loved plants and nature. This day is celebrated during Golden Week*.

Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi): This day is also known as The Boy’s Festival. This is the day that families pray for health, success, and future of their sons by hanging up carp streamers and displaying samurai dolls in which both symbolize strength, power, and success in life. This day is celebrated on May 5th during Golden Week*.

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Obon: This is a week-long festival dedicated to celebrate the lives of deceased ancestors. This celebration happens on July 13-15 and August 13-15. There is food, festivals, and candle lightings during this celebration.

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Emperor’s Birthday (Tenno no tanjobi): The birthday of the emperor is celebrated as a national holiday. 

*Golden Week: The Golden Week is a series of four Japanese holidays celebrated within seven days. The Golden Week is one of Japan’s three busiest holidays after New Year’s and Obon Week.

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The History of Japan

Japanese history is broken up into nine different periods (Early Japan, Naro and Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi, Azuchi-Momoyama, Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Early Showa, and the Postwar Period). During the Early Japan Period (until 710) was the foundation of the evolution of Japan. Things such as agriculture, the evolution of social classes, and powerful land owners began to come to use. Prince Shotoku played an extensive role in the usage of Chinese ideas in Japan. Prince Shotoku also wrote the Constitution of the Seventeen Articles about moral and political principles. In 645, a new government and and administrative system was adopted after the Chinese model.

In the Nara and Heian Periods (710-1185) the first capital of Japan, Nara, was established and modeled after the Chinese capital. During this period, the Chinese influence lessened and the Japanese influence flourished. The military class became more influential during this time. Taira Kiyomori was the leader of Japan—he ruled the country from 1168-1178. After Kiyomori’s death, Minamoto Yorimoto became the leader of Japan and established a new government in his home city Kamakura.

The Kamakura Period was when the Kamakura government was established.The Jokyu Disturbance ended a struggle between Kamakura and Kyoto which resulted in the supremacy of the Hojo regents in Kamakura. The Mongol invasion happened during this time. The Mongols tried to invade twice but it failed because of bad weather conditions.

The years 1338-1573 is also called as the Muromachi Period. The Kemmu Restoration occured during this time which is when the emperor restored power over Japan. In 1338, Ashikaga Takauji appointed himself as shogun and established his government in Kyoto. During the 15th and 16th centuries, political newcomers were families of military families. In 1542, the first Portugese traders arrived in Kyushu in which they introduced firearms and Christianity to Japan. Oda Nobunaga made the first steps toward unification by capturing Kyoto in 1568. The Muromachi bakuku failed in 1573.

The Azuchi-Momoyama Period consisted of a couple of different events. Oda Nobunaga was murdered by general Azuchi and general Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Azuchi and took over control. During his reign, he destroyed the many castles that were built throughout the country. He took weapons from farmers and religious institutions. He wanted it to be a clear distinction between the social classes. He also expelled Christian missionaries in 1587. In 1592, his armies invaded Korea. He died in 1598.

The Edo Period, the leader Tokugawa Ieysasu became the most powerful man after Hideyoshi. When he was appointed emperor and established his government in Tokyo. He made this period of history a peaceful one. He had gotten rid of the enemies and had really gotten Japan under control. He promoted things such as foreign trade but the persecution of Christianity increased. During this time, samurai taught themselves martial arts, literature, philosophy, etc. Ieysasu wanted to little to no interaction with countries outside of Japan. The Russians tried to establish trade contacts with Japan without success. In 1853, Commodore Perry forced the Tokugawa government to open limited trade ports. In 1867-1868, the Toguwaka government fell because because of the political pressure placed upon him.

The Meiji Period was from the year 1868-1912. Tokyo became the new capital after emperor Meiji was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo and Meiji was restored in 1868. Japan received its first European style constitution in 1889. Conflicts between China and Japan led to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-1895. Emperor Meiji died in 1912.

A lot of things happened during the Militarism and WW2 Period. Under the power of emperor Taisho, the political power shifted from oligraphic clique to the parliament and the democratic parties. In WWI, Japan joined the allied powers.  At the following Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Japan’s proposal of amending a “racial equality clause” to the covenant of the League of Nations was rejected by the United States, Britain and Australia. Arrogance and racial discrimination towards the Japanese had plagued Japanese-Western relations since the forced opening of the country in the 1800s, and were again a major factor for the deterioration of relations in the decades preceding World War II. In 1933, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations. In July 1937, the second Sino-Japanese War broke out. In December 1941, Japan attacked the Allied powers at Pearl Harbor and several other points throughout the Pacific. The turning point in the Pacific War was the battle of Midway in June 1942. From then on, the Allied forces slowly won back the territories occupied by Japan. In 1944, intensive air raids started over Japan. In spring 1945, US forces invaded Okinawa in one of the war’s bloodiest battles. On July 27, 1945, the Allied Powers requested Japan to surrender or destruction would continue. The Japanese military did not surrender which forced the U.S. military to drop two bombs Hiroshima and Nagaski on August 6th and 9th. The Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8th. On August 18th, emperor Showa surrendered unconditionally.

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