Japanese Culture Ten Things – a travel blog
I’m in Japan for two weeks. It’s my second trip to visit my younger son, Gerard, who has lived in Koshien (outside of Osaka) for three and a half years. Here are the top ten things I love about Japanese culture:
10. Cool paper products. Not just origami, but complicated cards that are gifts in and of themselves. I’m going to stock up.
9. Lining up to get on trains. No shoving, no elbowing. People line up, and they know where to stand. Train platforms are safe and orderly.
8. Taxis. Taxi drivers wear white gloves. In their license picture on display on the dashboard, they tend to wear tuxedos. The seats are slipcovered in lace.
7.Girls in their school uniforms. I’m not some creepy perv. The girls look cute walking down the street, laughing with one another.
6. Lines on sidewalks for the blind. When I first saw them, I had no idea what these yellow lines were for. My son explained they’re for the blind to use with their canes.
Here’s what the entrance to an underground passage and an intersection look like:
It makes so much sense!
5. Bowing. Everyone bows, young, old, male, female. If you see people on the phone bowing, they are probably requesting and/or receiving a service.
Learn How to Bow Japanese Style
Shopping malls open at 10:00 am. All shopkeepers are at their front doors, bowing to the first customers of the day.
When buying tickets at a counter in the train station (rather than from a machine), the person at the counter bows when you approach and bows when you leave.
The conductors who pass through the trains to punch your tickets bow when they enter the car and bow when they exit.
TV newscasters bow at the beginning of their programs and at the end. Love the respect in Japanese culture.
4. Two hands. When giving or accepting something, the Japanese always use both hands.
It is especially important to accept a calling card with two hands. But, really, every thing is in play.
Note: You do not typically hand money or credit cards directly to the person in a store or restaurant or even in a taxi. Instead, a small tray is used. You put your money or credit card in the tray.Any change or your credit card is returned to the tray.
3. Sake. Sake is the Japanese word for ‘alcohol.’ What is usually served as sake in American restaurants is nihonshu, which is translated as ‘Japanese rice wine.’ It is not really wine, in the sense that Japanese plum wine is wine. Rather, this sake might as well be translated as ‘Japanese alcohol.’
The sake you want in Japan is shochu. You can choose from the kind made from potato, wheat, or soba (noodles). I like the soba variety. The wheat variety is good when served with a lemon.
Here’s a wall of sake casks such as you would see outside at a temple.
The next festival is sure to be a corker!
2. Food. I love everything about Japanese food: the variety, the presentation, the bite-sized portions. I don’t happen to like garlic and onions, and Japanese cuisine is based on neither. Vegetables and fish are plentiful, and I’m always happy.
Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m eating, which may be for the best. A little mystery in Japanese culture is okay by me.
1. Baths. A communal Japanese bath is called an onsen. The men and women are separated.
Before going into the heated pool to soak, you need to wash yourself at an individual shower stall at least three times.
You go to and from the onsen in a yukata – a Japanese dressing gown – the hotel provides for you, along with slippers. You can go everywhere in the hotel in your yukata except the dining room.
Here I am in mine:
I particularly like the onsen when the hot pool is outside. This past weekend we were at a hotel with an onsen like the one pictured: rustic, lined with rocks, and in a forested setting.
(I did not take my own pictures of the onsen. It would have been rude, to say the least.)
The Japanese can stay in the pool for a long time, like hours. Me, I lasted 15 minutes, tops. Even then I came out feeling very clean and relaxed.
Japanese culture is complex, refined and beautiful.
See also: All My Asia Blogs
Categorised in: Asia, Blog, Travel
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen
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1NicoleNOct 25, 2008, 9:42am
What do you love most about Japan?
What I love most about Japan are the cherry blossom trees. They are so beautiful! I really want to go to Japan during the Spring time because that is when the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom and also when they look their best!
2Teacup_Oct 25, 2008, 1:28pm
Well it's a very rich culture. It has an interesting history, mythology, literature, art, calligraphy, theater & modern tech fads (such as video games, comic books, anime, video games...etc).
I'm like you, its a dream to go to Japan one day. I can't think of one person I know who hasn't been there and didn't like it. Like I said, its a very rich culture and would be nice to go there and experience it first hand. Not sure if it will ever come true though :P
If you go, post pictures here so we can see those pretty cherry blossoms :
3meneNov 3, 2008, 3:06pm
The food, the language (dialects!), the people (family/friends) and the smells of everything!
I also like temples and their surroundings :)
Bookshops, of course, but I like bookshops everywhere in the world.
4nobooksnolifeNov 5, 2008, 1:39am
Public transportation that is on-time, clean, and efficient. High cultural appreciation for cuisine, literature, and music, both their own and that of other cultures. (I have a long list, but these 2 are at the top).
5janoorani24Nov 10, 2008, 11:49pm
Obanyaki (bean cakes), rock music from the early 1970's, riding the trains, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, Kyudo (Japanese archery), having someplace to take ones shoes off when entering a house, etc.
6lilithcatNov 11, 2008, 8:14am
It's the appreciation for fine craftsmanship that first drew me to Japanese culture. Whether it is in dyeing, papermaking, toolmaking, woodworking, there is a love for finely wrought items that thrills me. How can one not love a culture that nominates craftsmen as National Living Treasures, and means it?
7LarxolNov 11, 2008, 11:19am
I agree with lilithcat about the crafts artists, but they are a special case of the general attitude that everyone takes pride in doing their job as well as they can.
And I have to add the onsen (hot springs) and public baths -- boy, do they know how to enjoy a bath.
8gscottmooreNov 12, 2008, 10:25pm
I love almost everything about Japan. I find the food great almost where ever I go. I have a fascination with the language, both spoken and written, but I'm not very good at it. So one of the things I like about being in Japan is that I am cut off from the linguistic part of my brain. Everywhere I go signs are shouting all kinds of marketing noise, and sometimes it's pretty and sometimes it's not, but it never makes my linguistic brain respond.
In the same way I can be in a noisy place with my wife, but I have a pleasant chat undistracted by specific conversations going on around me or the blabber on nearby televisions.
Which reminds me, I like the music in bars, restaurants and coffee joints. It's frequently really cool Bluenote jazz from the 50's, rare records and stuff I would never normally be able to hear in the states.
I like the fact that everywhere I go, day or night, urban or rural I feel completely safe and the area I'm in as totally without crime.
I like the bathrooms. I've backed out of more men's rooms embarrassed that I'd accidentally gone into the women's room--it was that clean! Smelled nice, flower arrangements, etc. Amazing.
I like the way bartenders make drinks in upscale bars. Like they are scientists. They has this highly refined protocol to every move they make.
I like the speed, efficiency, quiet and comfort of the train system.
I like the fact that service, any service in any location is almost always impeccable. In the USA there is some kind of shame associated with service personnel, they are "losers" in their minds apparently. In the US, very generally, there are celebrities and "losers". In Japan there is no shame in providing good service in the most limited of circumstances. I love that.
Almost everything works, almost always. As opposed to, say, Mexico or Brazil where either nothing works, or very little works.
I love their sense of design. Even the most mundane buildings, still have really cool interiors.
I like the sense of constant opportunities for surprises. You go into any building in a fun district of Japan, hit every button on the elevator and as the door opens you peek out. If it looks good, off you go, otherwise you wait another floor. You can always find wacky places you really shouldn't be where the have a desire to play with or adopt a gaijin. I love that.
And the list goes on and on...
9nobooksnolifeNov 13, 2008, 9:14am
Hi Gerry... I love your list.
Another thing I love along the lines of "everything works" is that packages that are marked "open here" really do OPEN there, and usually very neatly, too. None of this pulling little plastic wrappers open with one's teeth, or having to rip up entire containers even though they say "open here" as so often happens in America. Packaging in Japan is often designed to be easily opened and closed again...
I also love reading your remarks to remember what Japan is like when one is visiting as opposed to living here. Living here is great, but like any place, there can be annoyances; however, for me there are more things to like than dislike.
Julia (formerly sushidog1)
10franzeskaJan 6, 2009, 9:47am
The trains! Why don't we have awesome trains like that in the US? I can understand service being a bit iffy cross-country or on the West Coast, but Philly/NYC/DC/etc. should be much better connected. The Japanese systems are fantastic!
I second the packaging comment. Japanese junk food comes in the most ingenious packages, and they all open easily.
11elleveeJan 6, 2009, 9:49am
If I say, 'sushi' will everyone roll their eyes in dismay?
12amysissonJan 14, 2009, 6:50pm
Oh my, what a question!
In no particular order, after my first trip to Japan in 2007, I love:
1) sushi (although I admit I stay with the more tame stuff)
2) the language (I took once-a-week classes for a year before I went, and I have amassed quite a collection of Japanese picture books)
3) the friendliness and politeness of the people (everywhere we went in Japan, people were wonderful
I took a Japanese literature course in translation many, many years ago. Has anyone here read The Makioka Sisters? I really should re-read it.....
13gscottmooreFeb 2, 2009, 2:46pm
Yes, though my reading of Makioka has rolled right out of my memories. The movie, seen about six months ago has curiously became a "unique" memory, never even stirring comparisons in my brain. So, I'm very ready for a re-read. Actually it's about time to clear all the Tanizaki off my shelf that I never have read which adds another 2 or 3.
Speaking of the Makioka Sisters, January concluded a reading group of Japanese fiction in translation. Bent far enough it drifted to become American travel non-fiction, and writers whose name starts with a "J". :-)
In any case if memory servers there was someone who read Makioka which you might like to review or comment on. It's located here:
14Musical_BuddhistApr 17, 2009, 11:42pm
So many things to love about Japan. It is exquisite. Of course the beauty of the Japanese gardens, cherry blossoms and just the culture in general.
I love the Zen philosophy, and love it dearly as it has been life changing for me.
But another thing I love is that Japan has so many people and and everybody is always busy and active, yet is still has this overwhelming sense of calmness and serenity. The traditional music is sensational too!
Its all so lovable. :-)
15Musical_BuddhistApr 17, 2009, 11:50pm
And YES gscottmoore! The bathrooms! They are so cool. Some have heated seats and they often play peaceful light music with running water sounds so that nobody can hear you pee. How wonderful for the more modest public restroom user!
I even came across one that had birds chirping and frogs croaking and a running stream noise. It was like the rainforest! lol.
I never quite got the courage to use the little cleaning jets that they have the squirt warm water at the derriere to clean up upon the aftermath... However I did get curious and pressed the little button while not seated leaving a nice wet mark on the hotel carpet. Oops. Lol.
16Teacup_Apr 18, 2009, 4:45pm
loooooool @ Musical Buddhist. They do put a lot of emphasis on cleanliness which is very nice :)
17keiguJun 5, 2009, 5:50pm
Respect for learning, though it is found in much of the sinosphere, so a pauper like yours truly did not feel life was an insult
The readability of 500 year old poems -- try that with chaucer! -- for cultural depth some vertical continuity helps
Vegetables like gobo and seri and kuwai that show french cuisine's carrots what they, juvenile bug's bunny tastebuds
More humble souls as found only at Lake Wobegone in the US (i once saw a girl not given her deserved title as the best chef because whe was not boastful enough) -- no, i guess it is not that i like japan but find much to dislike in Usania
Courage -- though it is lacking today, the concept of it still lives in those marvelous death poems
Not yet seeking six-pack bellies and buns of steel -- that is a culture that does not only admire the hard but the soft as well
Less hypocrisy than in Usania where people spout out commonplaces as individual thought -- i guess it is simply being rational
The grain of the voice in music -- while i still have an awful image of miyako harumi's eyes rolling back like one possessed, everytime o hear my old tape of her -- even "ara etchi!" which sums up a jidai and japanese good humor toward human frailties and honesty re desires -- when i hear her sing my eyes moisten and . . . too much wine celebrating MAD IN TRANSLATION coming out but not on sale until the longest day --- it is re kyoka and the free-thinkers of jpse poetry which was once another good thing but not understood today which is bad (i'm working on that).
18unornaJun 7, 2009, 6:34pm
Things I love about Japan:-
Japanese prints (especially ukiyo-e)
Japanese Cinema (especially Chambara and ghost stories).
The Way of Tea.
19abobrien13Jun 10, 2009, 12:44am
I'm amazed how traditional architecture (specifically shrines or temples) still stand in large urban areas. There is a great mix of past and present. I am studying Japanese language in the university, so I have been working on my hearing/comprehending skills in different dialects and smooth speech. Also, just writing Japanese characters is great fun.
20RoodJun 10, 2009, 2:13pm
21keiguJun 11, 2009, 12:47am
Usania, Land of the Fredes, originally supposed to be Columbia, a country that, as Washington Irving first pointed out, failed to adopt a Proper Name, that so irks people in other parts of the Americas that whole books have been written protesting our usurpation of the continental name. With Usania, we need not use American to refer to ourselves alone because we can be called Usanians. On the other hand, it would probably be better yet if we split up to allow for more experimentation . . . Japanese, by the way, used to have a lot of fun with their national name, or at least the kyoka poets did . . .
I forgot to say I returned to Japan to start my writing career because I did not have to type but could actually hand in my manuscript in manuscript, but that is no longer true. Luckily, the other thing I loved about writing in Japanese -- and reading -- was the phenomenal amount of punning, not all groaning stuff, mind you, but the equivalent to good rhyming in so far that it is convincing in its own way. Yes, Japan is the world capital of the pun.
22RoodJun 11, 2009, 1:43pm
As I am intimately acquainted with the term USONIA, but not USANIA, my query is prompted by the similarity between the two terms.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright agreed with the concept of more accurately describing the United States, not so much to assuage the feelings of people from South America, as to distinguish the unique qualities of our
Constitution, as they naturally devolve upon the life of the individual and the democratic ideal. During the last 30 years of his life, Wright always referred to that ideal society, as USONIA, and his architecture as "Usonian", an acronym of The United States of North America.
When asked about the term, Wright mistakenly attributed the term to Samuel Butler, from his novel Erewhon. In her 1992 biography of Wright, Meryle Secrest suggested that Wright began using USONIA about 1910, after the Union of South Africa was founded. That may be true, but nothing has been discovered that confirms her belief.
My own hunch is that Wright became acutely aware of the feelings of South Americans about our usurpation of "America", during his month long stay in Rio de Janeiro in October 1931. At the time he was in midst of researching ideas for his first "Usonian" houses, homes whose designs evolved inevitably and solely from problems unique to life in the United States during those troubled years. See:
My question: Is your "USANIA" an acronym for something similar to USONIA, The United States of North America, or should the first "A" actually be an "O".
23ChaseMEdited: Jun 24, 2009, 9:59am
I really enjoy how so many facets of the culture lend to being aesthetically pleasing - the hot finger towels, the whole experience with towels and a massage after a haircut, watching the care with which the books I purchase are carefully wrapped, the care with grooming and hygene, the clean lines and unadorned features of homes - simple things done so well and beautifully. To me it is very sensual in many ways.
24keiguJul 2, 2009, 12:41am
Rood, sorry to take so long to respond. Just saw your message for the first time a few minutes ago.
I was not thinking of an acronym but simply making USA an adjective to avoid using the continental name. I recall coming across someone else who used it -- maybe Mailer in the Air conditioned nightmare? -- though I did not know that when I started using it in the 70's. But I may have been influenced by Irving who kept the acronym but thought of it as the United States of Allegania. If I had my old manuscript at hand I could find out more but I am afraid I do not. At any rate, I am sure I never considered or used Usonia as the "o" just does not work for me.
It is odd as Sonia is a pretty name. Now, speaking Japanese where an uso is a lie my feelings become even more complex.
Ah, yes, in Japan one can easily find places to play go.
25FogiesEdited: Sep 7, 2009, 8:08am
17> Keigu-sama, Mrs. Fogy agrees about "The readability of ... old poems" and relates this story ...
One day more than a decade ago, when she was returning from Korea to where she lived then, in the corner of Kyoto-fu just outside of Nara, she noticed on the noren to a kiosk in Saidaiji station the following poem from the Man'youshuu.
天の原 ふりさけみれば 春日なる 三笠の山に 出でし月かも
Amanohara furisake-mireba Kasuga naru Mikasanoyama-ni ideshi tsuki ka mo
She had been moon-viewing with the colleagues she was visiting in Korea, and was moved by the timeliness of the poem, which may even predate the founding of the city of Kyoto, more than 1200 years ago.
26neopeiusSep 12, 2009, 1:33am
I've been to Japan five times in the past 6 years, and I can't wait to go again. My favorite thing about the country? These days, I'd have to say my friends. We've met so many wonderful people over there and it's great to catch up again over sushi and karaoke.
Okay. Friends *and* sushi *and* karaoke.
27amysissonOct 7, 2009, 2:25pm
My husband got corralled into karaoke when he was over there and out with a group of Japanese friends. So he sang, and when he finished, one of his friends said (shaking his head), "Paul-san. Not so good."
Thank goodness I wasn't there to have to sing!
28sucreOct 8, 2009, 7:52pm
like both of u, i'd love to go to japan i've heard so many lovely things about the country but i think the best is the cherry blossoms. most people i know who have been there did not want to come back and the technology there is one of the best if not the best. i love they animes they produce then u have the kimonos, sushi and mama daifuku(if you like bean paste)
cant wait to go!!!
people please post pictures so that we can continue to appreciate!!!
29AHS-WolfyOct 8, 2009, 8:10pm
I don't profess to be a great photographer but I took these snaps when I went to Japan to see the X Japan reunion concert in 2008:
Japan trip 2008
I was lucky enough to catch some cherry blossoms but didn't really get too much time for sightseeing. Most of the pics are from Kanagawa and around Yokohama.
30neopeiusOct 15, 2009, 8:22pm
I totally recognize Yokohama. I went to the Royal Park Hotel building just this April. Two years ago, World Con was held near there at the convention center and we stayed at the Hotel then, too.
My daughter liked that little harbor-side amusement park.
31nobooksnolifeOct 18, 2009, 8:24am
>29 AHS-Wolfy: All I can say is "wow" and thanks so much for sharing your photos of Japan. You are much too modest--you not only have a sweeping array of above-average pictures, but also many that are OUTSTANDING. I've been to Japan as a tourist, but now I live here more-or-less permanently, and even though I tote my camera around a lot, I can never get good shots like yours.
32amysissonNov 5, 2009, 6:54pm
^Hey neopeius, we went to Worldcon in Japan too, and stayed at the Royal Park Hotel! I loved walking back and forth from the hotel to the convention because there was so much to see. One day there were juggler/entertainers in the little square, and I got amazing photos of kids watching the performance.
33keiguNov 30, 2009, 1:54pm
Message 25, Fogies-sama-zama,
Arigatou. Vertical connection is so important, for me, it is what brings tears.
Re. Korea, it, also brings tears for one who called my snores "robin music" and the moon reminds me of how much i want to be at a university and do a book on moonviewing with students . . .
Photograph lovers. There is something to what you write. Lowell wrote it over a hundred years ago. It is indeed hard to imagine a cherry blossom viewing.
But this is Librarything, a site for books. A site for the word. I would be delighted if you read my 3,000 translations of Japanese haiku: CHERRY BLOSSOM EPIPHANY which is 100% readable and free at Google Books. A pictures is often worth a thousand words, but . . . it is that "but" I would like to hear about. Can you get off on my words? Or, are pictures the only things that excite you?
Sorry to get so personal, but I sometimes wonder if I should bother with writing.
I, too, am a picture person who once made more from playing in graphic arts than I ever did from writing . . .
34roulette.russeDec 18, 2009, 2:43pm
I cannot image Japan without the unique HEARING experience. I mean, sounds are the first memories that come back to me when thinking about Japan.
Those weird 'Bip BUP sounds or the music when you cross the streets. The total silence in buses, subways and trains (talking on your cellphone is prohibited). Or on the contrary, all the sale clerks screaming in busy market streets. Buddhist chants in remote temples...
And the politeness and kindness of people. My host family threw incredible parties for me when I was there and the Japanese attending those were always very curious about me but also eager to teach me things about their traditions. People I did not even know always offered to help me when I looked lost, or to take me somewhere (a friend of my host mother took a whole day off from work to bring me on a day-trip to Gokayama -- a two hour ride from Kanazawa where I studied-- AND in the Japanese Alps, which offers SUPERB scenery).
I also really love both traditional and modern japanese architecture, which I fell in love with in my adolescence, reading AKIRA and othe graphic novels by Katsuhiro Otomo (who was trained as an architect, if I'm not mistaking).
35LarxolDec 18, 2009, 3:55pm
Good post, roulette.russe. Some of the sounds I associate with Tokyo have disappeared or are about to. When I first went to the city, they still punched your ticket by hand in the subway station, and all the guys would click-clack their punches in different rhythms while the passengers walked by. In the August evening, if you opened the windows instead of the aya-con, you would hear the clop of the wooden geta on their way to the sentou down the street. And in the winter, the sweet-potato man still yelled to announce himself, instead of that dumb recording they use now...
36roulette.russeDec 18, 2009, 10:47pm
The sound of the wooden geta... This reminds me of those two wooden sticks that some people clap together while walking around, in the evening. I heard it sometimes in Kanazawa and was told that it's a tradition, and their way of reminding people to close the gas.
I was very surprised when I heard it from my apartment, in Itabashi district (Tokyo)!
I saw the old-style subway ticket-punching in Chris Marker's unbelievable documentary movie, 'Sans Soleil'. It's true that it's very different from what you experience now.
And that eerie recording in Tokyo... It starts with a little jingle and then a lady's voice tells something about smog and going back into your house...
The police cars with policemen speaking in the loud phones instead of putting their alarm on. At any time of the day or of the night (my aircon was broken in Tokyo so I had to sleep with the back door open, near a busy highway and pachinko parlours -- but still loved it).
Oh and the political teams in trucks with megaphones blasting their speeches. Those actually scared me, especially when they added the national anthem to it.
37keiguDec 19, 2009, 11:06am
Yes the sounds, but why russian roulette, or do i misread your a.k.a.?
The sticks clapped together, are a very high woody note and not at all like most geta though some are made of wood that comes somewhat close. And whre i lived, loud-speakers blasted advice to take care on cold dry winter days.
That is the sort of aural pollution most usanians would fume about, but i so enjoyed the drums and other warm-up sounds of the festivals (bon-dances shooting across from a hill-top hachiman jinja into the valley where i lived -- here, in the woods of n florida all i get to hear are fireworks on july 4 and guns . . .
Those nationalists are like jehova's witnesses -- if you enjoy argument try going right up to them and engaging.
I was blessed in japan to be able to buy cheaply a 365 channel yusen (cable radio) -- here there is only an elevator music called soft jazz, four or five classic rock stations with a 100 song playlist and an equal number of country music which has almost none of the great heritage of the same and of course some hip-hop.
RR, i am curious. Do you speak and read japanese well? If so, what do you think of the word "ha-gotae" and that concept of food? Please pardon my pushiness . . .
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