Have you ever visited Japan?
For those of us who live in the United States, the answer is probably no. International travel can get expensive pretty quickly and let’s face it: Japan is about as far away as we’re likely to go! Regardless, the country is definitely worth visiting: for its many incredible cities, its natural beauty and its rich cultural history. Anyone considering a visit may even be overwhelmed by all the potential sights and sounds to take in. At the very least, it might help potential visitors to have a basic understanding of the country before they go there.
With that in mind, here are 20 glimpses into the amazing culture of Japan.
1. Of all the world’s major cities, Tokyo is the safest.
According to an international ranking developed by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Japan’s capital city of Tokyo is the safest there is. The rankings are released according to a number of different indexes, including healthcare, infrastructure and personal wellbeing.
2. People in Japan tend to live longer than Americans—and a whopping 26.7% of the country is composed of senior citizens.
As a result of better pension benefits (and perhaps a healthier diet?), Japan’s elderly population is much higher than that of the United States. If you’re into longevity, you might want to move!
3. There are bullet trains everywhere.
Those lucky enough to live near good public transit in America are undoubtedly grateful, but we have nothing on Japan’s trains. These can go as fast as 200 mph.
4. Japan is also populated with numerous “love hotels.”
If you and a significant other are feeling particularly amorous, Japan has many love hotels which can be rented for shorter periods of time for a quick getaway! These hotels come in many different varieties and can often be found near highways.
5. Schools and companies often begin the day with group exercise.
In some ways, Japanese culture emphasizes a collective culture and unity more so than the United States does. To that end, they help build community by making sure everyone gets their heart rate up throughout the day (which may also lead to longer life, come to think of it).
6. You may be allowed—and encouraged—to take a nap at work.
The practice of napping at work in Japan is referred to as inemuri, and is thought to signify that employees are working very hard. Even more interesting is that some workers even fake inemuri to make it seem like they’re working harder than they are!
7. Japan is home to many companies which are nearly 1000 years old.
Construction companies, sake manufacturers, confectioners, you name it—Japan has a long business history and many of the companies are still around today! Pictured above is Hōshi Ryokan, a traditional inn which was founded in 718 AD and is still family-owned to this day.
8. Get ready to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas—it’s a cultural tradition.
Although Japan is an island, that doesn’t mean it’s excluded from cultural sharing. That said, one of the strangest American exports is that KFC has become something of a tradition on Christmas there.
9. You are likely to find vending machines on almost every corner.
Though we’re familiar with vending machines, Japan takes these to the next level by having them everywhere and offering unusual items in them. In addition to food, they also sell everything from live lobsters to women’s underwear.
10. All of the manhole covers you see are artisanal.
Though we don’t pay much attention to them here, many manhole covers in Japan are emblazoned with artwork to make them more pleasing to look at. After all, attention to detail is important.
11. Vegetable carving is an art form all its own.
Related to this attention to detail is mukimono, the art of carving vegetables and fruits into ornate and decorative patterns or shapes!
12. Kit Kats come in many different varieties and are a popular ritual before taking a big exam.
In Japanese, Kit Kat is pronounced “Kitto Katsu,” which sounds pretty similar to the phrase for “you are sure to pass.” With that in mind, it makes sense that these would be eaten before any major test.
13. Children ages three, five and seven celebrate communal and nationwide birthdays.
On November 15th, Japan celebrates Shiti-Go-San, a celebration for children turning three, five and seven. Odd numbers are considered lucky in Japanese culture and the event is supposed to honor some of the major turning points of childhood.
14. Slurping your noodles isn’t just ok—it’s encouraged!
Ramen houses are widely popular in Japan and they include their own customs. Although slurping noodles is considered impolite or rude in America, ramen needs to be eaten hot with both broth and noodle in every mouthful. To accomplish this, quick slurping is considered necessary.
15. Noh Drama, one of the world’s oldest dramaturgical art forms, is still practiced to this day.
Noh is a form of classical theater involving masks and pageantry that has been around since the 14th century. Stories usually revolve around fantasy or folk tales and can still be enjoyed today.
16. Karaoke bars are just as popular as you think they might be.
17. Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market.
As you may know (or might’ve assumed), Japanese people consume quite a lot of seafood. As a result, their seafood markets are a mainstay of cultural life—including Tsukiji Market, the world’s biggest.
18. Instead of shaking hands, the traditional Japanese custom is to bow to one another.
Although it’s common knowledge that bowing in Japan is a sign of respect and a greeting, what you might not know is that there are sub-rules within the custom. Not bowing is a sign of disrespect and whoever bows more deeply is considered to be showing more respect or deference (typically to an elder or a person of authority).
19. Crooked teeth aren’t necessarily considered unattractive.
You may be used to going to the dentist or orthodontist to get your teeth straightened. In Japan, however, yaeba is the trend of having (or even going to the dentist and getting) crooked teeth.
20. Japan is an archipelago with more than 6,800 islands.
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We typically think of Japan as one big island. In reality, Japan has several major islands and then many tiny little islands around it.t
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