9 Japanese Traditions

Japanese Traditions You Should Know Before Visiting Japan

Japan is a country filled with culture and traditions. Before visiting this beautiful part of the world it is key to understand some of the Japanese traditions which you may encounter so that you will for one understand what is happening and secondly be able to appreciate and join in.

1. Age Before Beauty

Do you often find that you’re the oldest person in your social group? In Japan, if this is the case then you’re actually honoured (not in a royal sense, unfortunately) but honoured among your social group. If you and your friends are in a bar then you will be served first and your drinks will be poured for you!

restaurant-people-alcohol-bar japanese traditions

2. Yukata for Summer Matsuri

There are numerous Japanese Matsuri or Festivals held throughout Summer. Whereas in England, a typical summer festival outfit would consist of wellies and sunglasses, in Japan a summer Yukata is the popular choice. Yukatas are traditional Japanese robes which are worn by both men and women. Because of their bright and colourful patterns, a Yukata makes the perfect outfit for Summer Matsuri.

cherry-blossom-print-short-red-yukata japanese traditions
Cherry Blossom Print Short Red Yukata

3. Bowing

Bowing is used for a variety of reasons in Japanese tradition including greetings, sports, religion and a show of thanks. For each occasion the bow is slightly different, it can vary from a slight bow to a deep bow however for tourists a traditional hand shake is accepted. Read more about Japanese bowing.

Female_bowing_to_whale japanese traditions
By Paul Synnott from Osaka, Japan (Showing respect) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Onsen Towel Fashion

Onsen are something of an institution in Japan. An abundance of active volcanoes makes the country a prime spot for hot springs of all types however the majority of onsen are nude-only and you will not be allowed to enter the baths if you are clothed. A little privacy can be found in the modesty towels provided by the onsen. Modesty towels allow you to cover yourself between the changing room and the hot springs however you are not allowed to put the towels in the water for risk of contamination hence the reason that many people have towels on their head. Learn more about Japanese Onsen etiquette.

japanese traditions onsen
Photo by By Markmark28 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

5. Zabuton Throwing

Sumo Wrestling is widely popular among the Japanese. In many Sumo stadiums there will be a tatami area for people to sit. Tatami is an area of soft mats which are popular with people sitting and sleeping on- although at the Sumo no one will be sleeping! On the Tatami area, revellers will be given Zabuton pillows to sit on and its common tradition that if people are frustrated with the sumo that they will throw their Zabuton into the ring.

sumo japanese traditions

6. No Tipping

In Japan, there is no tipping! Although this can be very hard for foreigners to fathom because pretty much every other country in the world does accept tipping. However in Japan, tipping is considered insulting. They believe that a price is a price so why would they want more than asked of? In lamens terms, just don’t do it!

Image Courtesy: Lea Latumahina (www.flickr.com/photos/63089963@N02/11464392095/in/photoli...), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic | Flickr japanese traditions
Image Courtesy: Lea Latumahina (www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/11464392095/in/photoli…), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic | Flickr

7. Kampai

The first rule of drinking in Japan is to Kampai, that’s cheers to you and me. In England, and other parts of the world, cheers is used more for a celebration than just for a typical Friday night. In Japan, saying Kampai before drinking is important and is seen as rude if ignored.

drink-beer japanese traditions

8. Setsubun

Setsuben is a Japanese holiday which takes place on February 3rd. On this holiday, the Japanese believe that the spirit world is closest to our world. One activity during the holiday is called mamemaki, this is where the children are given the opportunity to scare the demons out of their house. During mamemaki, a parent will put on an oni mask to represent the demons and they scare their children. The children then fend of the demons by throwing soy beans.

By katorisi (Own work) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons japanese traditions
By katorisi (Own work) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

9. Dondo Yaki

In Japan, it’s considered unlucky to keep lucky items for more than a year. Instead of putting items in the bin, the lucky objects are traditionally burned and this is known as Dondo Yaki. Things that should be burned include lucky charms and items with that year’s zodiac sign. Dondo Yaki takes place in January, so if you’re still hanging onto last year’s lucky charm, it may be time for a bonfire and to purchase a new one!

Switch your old lucky charms for this year's (2016) Japanese zodiac: The Year of the Monkey japanese traditions
Switch your old lucky charms for this year’s (2016) Japanese zodiac: The Year of the Monkey

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