A Quick Guide to The People, Culture, and Customs of Japan

people culture and customs of Japan

Japan is a country known for its unique culture, strong traditional customs, and its warm friendly people. There’s a lot to learn about the people, culture, and customs of Japan and in this article, you’ll discover the most important facts about this magical country and its inhabitants.

From 2020, in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, it will be possible to apply for an eVisa for Japan. This will allow many of the nearly 30 million annual foreign visitors to quickly register for authorization to enter Japan. For travelers from countries without visa exemptions, this will make travel a lot simpler to the island nation, to meet the government’s goal of boosting to tourism to 60 million visitors a year.  

As more people will be visiting the country in the next few years, knowing the essentials about the people of Japan and their culture has never been more important. In the following guide, you’ll learn a few key facts about the people culture and customs of Japan.

Japanese Culture and Customs

The culture of Japan has been shaped by centuries of tradition and by the arrival of modern technological change in the last century. Whilst a lot has changed since the country’s rapid industrialization and modernization in the 19th and 20th Century, Japan still maintains a strong devotion to its ancient past.

Religion in Japan

Japanese religion embodies a mix of this old and new combination of cultures. The ancient Shinto religion is very much alive and well in the country, however, it has also been joined by other world religions such as Buddhism and even a little bit of Christianity.

Shrines and temples can be found across the country, which all maintain this historic tradition of faith. Shinto and Buddist rituals are also highly important for important rites of passage such as weddings, births, and deaths.

Sport in Japan

Japan is well known for its traditional sports and martial arts. Perhaps the most significant of these is Sumo wrestling. This 1,500-year-old, ritual-filled, test of endurance strength and determination is still wildly popular in the country today and can be viewed almost weekly in cities across the land.

Sport in Japan

However, Japan has also embraced more than its fair share of non-traditional sports from overseas. The nation has one of the biggest pro-baseball leagues outside of the United States and soccer has a similarly strong following.

Art and Theatre in Japan

The nation has a strong history in the theatric arts. Kabuki theatre is a tradition dating back to the 1600s and is world renowned for its stylized form of acting whilst Noh theatre is well known for its use of distinctive wooden masks.

However, in recent times the country is best known for its contribution to the animated arts with acclaimed Studio Ghibli sometimes being colloquially referred to as Japan’s Disney. The nation is also known around the world for its rich catalog of animated series such as Naruto, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam Wing, One Piece, and Dragonball.

Food and Drink in Japan

Japanese food is famed the world over for its presentation but also its relative simplicity. The range of dishes to sample varies from easy-to-prepare homemade classics like yakisoba noodles or ramen to more elaborate cuisine such as sushi or tempura. Fish, vegetables, and meat are the cornerstone of many of these dishes, however, rice and noodles are probably the staple dish of the country.

Five Dishes to Try in Japan

japanese tradicional food

  • Tempura: Battered fish, meat and vegetables
  • Sushi: Raw fish served on vinegared rice
  • Yakisoba: Thin noodles in soup or broth
  • Ramen: noodles served in fish or meat broth topped with meat, and/or vegetables
  • Miso: A fermented soybean seasoning used to make soup and season meat

Cultural Sensitivity While in Japan

Japan is a very welcoming country for foreigners. However, in order to respect the local customs of Japan there are a few rules to consider on your visit:

  • If you are visiting a family home, traditional hotels (such as Ryokan) or certain shrines you should remove your shoes before crossing the entrance threshold
  • On meeting someone for the first time it is best to greet them with a small bow
  • It’s absolutely normal to make loud slurping noises when you eat noodles
  • Eating and drinking on the street is considered impolite
  • Tipping is not a custom in restaurants in Japan
  • Don’t talk loudly on a cellphone when in crowded areas like busy trains or busses
  • If possible, try not to blow your nose or sneeze loudly whilst walking in public places
  • It is sometimes forbidden to bathe in bathhouses and onsen if you have visible tattoos

Who are the Japanese people?

japanese people and traditions

The Japanese are a modern people but even to this day still adhere to several of the nation’s firmly rooted traditions, however, much is changing in today’s Japan. The ethnic makeup of the country is very homogenous, with over 98% of the nation’s citizens being ethnically Japanese. While identity is still very closely tied to conformity, career and family structure, the people are increasingly branching out and reevaluating these societal norms.

While society may seem a bit rigid to an outsider, Japanese people love to express themselves and relax, although only at specific, well-chosen moments such as during holidays and festivals. Whilst they work hard, they also play hard too.

A Few Quick Facts about Japan

If you’re planning a visit to Japan in the near future, these are some of the key facts you should know about the country before traveling:

  • The nation of Japan consists of 4 main islands: Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido, Shikoku and as many as 6852 other smaller islands in East Asia and the Pacific
  • The current Emperor of Japan is Naruhito who ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019 after the abdication of his father Akihito
  • Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain (and volcano) in Japan, at a height of 3,776m
  • The climate in Japan is temperate and there are 4 distinct seasons with summer occurring between June-August and Winter between December-February
  • The national currency is the Japanese Yen
  • Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world

Japan offers a wonderful opportunity for a cultural experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Don’t forget, if you’re visiting from a country without a visa exemption agreement, such as China, Indonesia or the Philippines, it will soon be possible to get a Japan Visa online. The application form can be accessed online easily from your own home and if you meet the entry requirements you can be quickly authorized to travel.