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Japan: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Japan Add comments


 japan map

Location: East Asia, a group of islands located between North Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, and the Korean Peninsula.

Capital: Tokyo

Climate: Cool temperate in the Northern regions to tropical in the South.

Population: 127,288,416 as of July 2008. An almost routine familiarity with high technology in almost all walks of life, a disciplined work ethic, and comparatively small allocation towards defence funds have seen Japan rise to be one of the most powerful economies in the modern world. Agriculture, seafood, electronics, domestic appliance industries, automobiles, and tourism are the strong foundations that rule its economy. Japan has an unemployment rate of under 4% as of 2007 estimates and no citizens below poverty line.

street in japanEthnic Make-up: Japanese 98%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, Others 1.1% (includes Brazilians of Japanese origin who returned in the 1990s).

Religions: Buddhism and Shintoism 84%, Others 16%, Christianity 0.7%. The Japanese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion but no religion shall be privileged over an other not attempt to influence politics.

Language: Japanese

Government: Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government.

Travel Issues: Travel to Japan requires a passport that is valid for at least 3 months beyond intended period of stay, and a return ticket or ticket for onward travel. Countries such as USA require no visa for up to 3 months of visiting. Other categories such as Business, Diplomatic Missions, Sports, Education, etc have specific requirements and current information can be had from the nearest Embassy or Consulate.

Non-US citizens should have a passport with at least 6 months validity remaining. They need to submit 2 completed and signed visa forms with 2 recent passport photos, a completed Cover Page and Credit Card Authorization forms, copy of itinerary or return ticket, and a business letter stating purpose of travel if on business.

Health & Safety: No vaccinations are asked for when travelling to Japan. However, it would be wise to check up on specifications close to date of travel in case of epidemics.


Mount Fuji

The People
The Japanese people are an amazing amalgamation of a millennia old civilisation and an ultra-modern culture, especially so in big cities such as Tokyo. They exemplify a deep respect, politeness, discipline, and responsibility in their undertakings supported by a harmony that pervades social behaviour.

The Religion
The Japanese practice a form of syncretism which means an easy synthesis of elements of various religions. Practitioners of Buddhism have no qualms celebrating Christmas or incorporating Shintoism in their rituals just as philosophies such as Taoism or Confucianism. Shinto is the original religion of Japan but it was more a way of life with no formal founder, holy book, or fixed rules. Buddhism came to Japan from India in the 6th century and easily took over from Shintoism. Protestant missionaries came to Japan in the 19th century and spread Christianity. There is a smattering of Hindus, Sikhs, and American Jews in addition to the main religions.

snow monkeysRole of Family
The conservative family structure involving generations living together has undergone a shift in modern times. But the family ties are strong and the elderly are still considered the responsibility of the progeny. Children are taught the values of interdependence with in families rather than encouraged to strike out on their own. Families are seen as a source of support as well as a unit of pride and honour that has to be maintained.

Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day as a national holiday. Old age marks a period where individuals willingly relinquish reins of control to the next in line and retire to less strenuous options. They are then in the care of their kin and treated with respect and care simply due to their seniority. This duty normally falls on the daughter –in-law of the household.

In modern societies however, most pensioners are happy to remain by themselves as far as possible and most continue to work well past retirement age. This has brought about a dramatic rise in the number of nursing homes and retirement centre, a concept which was non-existent about fifty years ago.

Recreational Activities
From manga, anime, ikebana, origami, to karate, karaoke, and video gaming, Japan has a range of recreational and sport activities that have avid followers of all ages.

Anything else important for this culture
Japanese customs may come across as strange to outsiders and this is understood and accepted by them. But it earns you a lot of respect if you attempt to follow their etiquette and manners.


 downtown japan

Meetings & Greetings
In Japan you greet people with a low formal bow from the waist down. The depth of the bow depends on how much respect you intend to convey. The more senior the person you’re greeting, the lower you bow. Foreigners can make do with a slight bow or even shake hands instead.

It is considered impolite to introduce yourselves unless pushed to do so. You do not make direct eye contact with seniors. There is a great deal of emphasis on good manners, quiet conversation, and polite behaviour. For instance, it is considered rude to interrupt, disagree blatantly, or argue. There is a subtle play of body language to express these things without insulting or hurting the sentiments of others. There is also a great need to save face or avoid humiliating anyone or putting anyone in an embarrassing situation.

soba noodlesGift Giving
Gift-giving is no spur of the moment thing in Japan, rather, it is a well thought out and planned gesture that speaks volumes about both presenter and receiver. Chocolates wrapped well should do for most occasions. The colour of the wrapping is also significant as they are associated with good or bad fortune. Get advice from a local friend or the shopkeeper to be on the safe side. Gifting flowers can be quite a bother as some flowers such as lilies and lotuses are considered inauspicious. Potted plants are unlucky but bonsai is good. If its something countable, make sure it adds up to an odd number. However, avoid 9 as it is unlucky.

Dress Code
Formal suits are ideal for business meetings for both men and women. Conservative is key.

Dining Etiquette
Wait to be seated at the table for this is based on seniority. And again, do not start eating till the honoured guest or the eldest member has begun. If using chopsticks make sure you do not point them directly at anyone. Place them on the chopstick rest between mouthfuls. They should be placed parallel and never crossed. It is okay to slurp soup

 Japan Castle

Visiting a home
If you’re invited to dinner at a home, make sure you leave your footwear outside and put on slippers provided by the family. If you need to visit the toilets they have special footwear for that. Bring an appropriate gift and give it unobtrusively without drawing attention to the act. Avoid being very late or very early.

geisha in japanCommunication Style
Very few Japanese speak fluent English and it would serve you well to learn a few useful phrases to make life easier. Non-verbal communication is another thing that you should be acquainted with in order to interact better. Japanese people are quick to catch nuances in body language and base opinions on that. Japanese people usually maintain an almost expressionless face as they speak in order to avoid conveying any hidden meaning. If someone is frowning slightly as you speak, it means disagreement. Maintaining eye contact conveys impudence. Inhaling through clenched teeth and scratching the eyebrow are all signs to watch out for.

Dos and Don’ts
As in most eastern cultures, the Japanese have strong beliefs about good and bad fortune. They have definite dos and don’ts where these are concerned and it will serve you well to know what’s taboo and avoid it. Business dealings are decidedly easier if they trust and respect you. So your first priority should be to earn these invaluable credit points. It helps to learn a bit of the language and formalities as it helps to integrate faster into mainstream society.

Click here to take the quiz: How Well Do You REALLY Know Japan?

Geisha photo by ~ezs
Castle photo by Freakland – ???????
Snow monkeys by Marc Veraart
Noodles by ~MVI~
People by tata_aka_T
Downtown by OiMax

One Response to “Japan: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information”

  1. Origami Lover Says:

    Good post. I just found this Origami-inspired Twitter icon at Digg, which you can use on your blog if it is running WordPress.

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