Known as the land of the rising sun, Japan is a vibrant country that a growing number of people are drawn to for its culture, delicious food and unique language. Japanese culture has been developing over thousands of years, and is a mix of both traditional and modern values.
In Japan, group harmony (wa) is very important, and is greater in importance than putting one’s needs as top priority. This concept is applied in family life, at the workplace, at schools, and among social groups.
There are a variety of eating customs that are essential components of Japanese culture. For instance, the phrase “Itadakimasu!” is commonly used before meals, and basically means, “I humbly receive this food.” Visitors to Japan will benefit from learning simple phrases as this in order to demonstrate politeness when offered meals.
If you are planning a visit to Japan or are working on learning how to speak Japanese for other reasons, you will find that there are many ritual expressions, like the one just described. For example, when proposing a toast to someone, you can say, “Kan-pai!” To Japanese phrase for “This tastes good” is “Oi-shii de-su”, and is a polite way to compliment your host or waiter on the meal you have been given.
It is also very common in Japanese culture to take off your shoes before entering a home or before sitting down for a meal at a restaurant where you will sit on a tatami mat at a low table. Other customs such as cleaning your hands with a hot towel and using chopsticks are also important eating habits to develop before traveling to Japan. You may find that you are presented with a bowl of miso soup at most meals. Don’t be surprised if you are not offered a spoon with your soup. It is customary to pick up the bowl with your hands and to drink the soup in this way.
The culture of Japan includes a wide variety of unique and beautiful art. Japanese visual arts include calligraphy, painting, Ukiyo-e (literally translates to “pictures of the floating world), Ikebana (the art of flower arrangement), and sculpture. Japanese performing arts often incorporates impressive costumes, masks, and stylized gestures. There is also a an array of conventional music, such as Biwa hoshi and Heike biwa, in addition to modern Japanese music that has Western influences.
Contemporary Japanese culture has changed quite a bit from its origins. While many traditional values still exist, modern Japan combines influences from Asia, North America and Europe. While traditional practices such as tea ceremonies, origami, ikebana, and onsen are still prevalent, the country is also a leading nation in technological research. Much of the modern culture relies on advanced technology. At the same time, you will see older and younger generations participating in lasting traditions that have been around for centuries. The combination of influences makes Japan a truly unique country that draws countless visitors each and every year.
Learning the Japanese language is a great way to truly enhance your understanding and appreciation of the culture. These days, there are countless resources available to anyone wishing to learn the language. For instance, listening to a Japanese podcast that focuses on grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary is a great way to gain a better grasp of the language. Whether your goal is to simply learn a few basic phrases or to develop your conversation skills, you will find many resources and tools that will help you along the way. As you learn Japanese, you are sure to find yourself becoming more immersed in the culture and your ability to enjoy your travels in the beautiful country.