Japan is a country of many societal and cultural surprises. Geographically it’s a beautiful made up of a long chain of islands stretching over 3,000 kilometers comprising the four major islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushuu, and a cluster of islets comprising the bigger Ryukyu island chain to the south.
In recent travel narratives, Tokyo’s Shibuya and Shinjuku have gained prominent roles. But, there’s more to Japan than its blinding lights and busy streets.
Lesser-known Japanese Cultural Facts
In this article we’d like to discuss eight cultural and heritage facts about Japan that make the culture so special.
1. In Shintoism and Buddhism
The worshipping of these two religions is commonly practiced in Japan.
It’s been said that the numbers of people claiming to be part of Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, and new religions total more than 150 percent of the total population. How is that so? Simple. A Japanese can say that he is both Shintoist and Buddhist. It is common to see two religious altars in Japanese homes: one is called Kamidana (Shintoism) and the other Butsudan (Buddhism).
2. In Kabuki
The traditional theatrical art of kabuki only has male actors.
Male actors, who specialized in the portrayal of women roles, are called “onnagata.” The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has included kabuki in its list of intangible heritage. UNESCO writes that “Kabuki plays are about historical events and moral conflict in relationships of the heart.” Elaborate make-up and costumes, and traditional instruments characterize this dramatic play, something you must see at least once while in Japan.
3. Tea Ceremony
Tea ceremony is seen as a form of self-reflection to appreciate the very moment a person is able to enjoy drinking a cup of tea.
Preparing tea and drinking tea are elevated in the form of a tea ceremony. It is said that boiling water in an iron pot makes a light, high-pitch sound which is reminiscent of the soft wind blowing over the bamboo leaves. In a way, this analogy embraces the essence of the ceremony: to enjoy and savor what is in front of you for that very moment only happens once in a lifetime.
4. Martial Arts
Japan has all the physical and mental prowess needed to be great and admirable athletes of martial arts.
You name it; Japan has it! Kyudo, judo, karate, kendo and many others are now being practiced as sports. In the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, karate was first accepted as an additional sport.
In Asia, Filipinos may be known as great karaoke singers but did you know that the karaoke (カラオケ）is originally a Japanese word coined after “kara” meaning empty and “oke” meaning orchestra.
Together, the word karaoke means to sing with recorded music. This is in contrast to “nama-oke” or real orchestra. The term karaoke is now known all over the world and has landed in the pages of Merriam-Webster Dictionary and is defined as: “a device that plays instrumental accompaniments for a selection of songs to which the user sings along and that records the user’s singing with the music.”
The harmony of nature and human beings is valued in ikebana as natural beauty plays a major role in the life and lifestyle of the Japanese people.
The Japanese art of flower arrangement is called ikebana. Perhaps no other country in the world highly appreciates flower arrangement as an art that is being practiced by a large proportion of the population. Ikebana is more than just putting flowers and stems in a container. Much emphasis is placed on the arrangement of the different elements.
Japanese food tickles the senses and embraces different flavors: sour, salty, sweet, slightly bitter with full umami flavors.
Traditional Japanese food is called washoku, which literally means “food of japan.” It has gained worldwide recognition for being healthy and delicious. The presentation of dishes is a visual treat in itself. It has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As a contrast to the Japanese food culture, we now see the proliferation of “instant noodle” that has since been widely accepted, spinning a new food culture common to all corners of the world.
Yamaha, Toyota, Isuzu, Honda, Kawasaki, Daihatsu, Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki… what do they have in common? These are Japanese car brands which are distributed all over the world.
Japan’s automobile production in 1960 was 500,000. The production grew 10 times in 10 years producing five million units in 1970. The peak production in Japan was in 1990 with 13.5 million units and it was about 10 million in 2014.
Japan Has a Diverse Cultural Heritage
Japan is a colorful country with rich culture and heritage that has spanned thousands of years. There is more to learn about its story including manga, anime, cosplay and even the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Want to know more about Japan’s history, culture and heritage? Check out our culture category!
Liantine Imamichi/ Philippines