“Must Know” about Japanese Culture


Nihon ga daisuki desu!  ( @ _ @) //

トラベル ガナス





1.  Sumo tournament – 4x a year


2.  Japanese Gardens


3.  Japanese Temples/shrines



4.  O-Hanami – viewing of cherry blossoms, spring season only



5. Karaoke





about the BEAUTIFUL and RICH




nihon no bunka

Japanese Culture 101:


  • A culture of collectivism vs. individualism; better to be unified and the same- the Japanese people value the “team and overall good of society”.
  • A rich, beautiful, tranquil culture of respect, honor, humility as well as pride, discipline, structure, and strong work ethic (respect elders and those of higher rank)

Strong Work Ethic, Structure, and Discipline

  • It’s interesting that the USA cultivates a culture of uniqueness, individuality, and ingenuity resulting in innovations that change the rest of the world – for example, the ipod or even the “car” or “automobile”.
  • The Japanese culture took the car, “learned the ins and outs” of it, perfected it, and arguably made it better (hence, Toyota, Honda, etc.)! (Quite similar to Germany as well)
  • You see other examples of this in their public schools where they do not have their own janitors, but the students clean their desks, floors, classrooms and learn the importance of discipline, responsibility, and uniformity.
  • A culture where all the students are required to do extra curricular activities after school, such as sports. A culture where the husbands are the typical business “working men” who work long hours (i.e. 8am-midnight) or later.
  • Most businessmen put extra pressure on themselves to be the honorable father and earn for his family.  It’s understandable why there is a high rate of suicides as well – people jumping onto the tracks of train, etc.  There is so much pressure not to let others down and to be honorable.
  • With that, business is slightly more patriarchal and there are less women at the top of corporations compared to other countries.  However, in recent years, the culture has practiced new rules such as businessman working “flex” hours, where they can choose their own work hours, they are considering more women in corporate rank positions, and women are marrying later.


  • The husbands are the “breadwinners” and after long nights of work may go on to relieve their stress drinking at the local Izakayas or karaoke bars.  Entry level workers pour the drinks for the boss as a sign of respect and have to attend company parties.  In general, most people/friends go to Izakayas to celebrate and drink. The legal drinking age is 20.  There is a large population that smokes tobacco as well.

Safety and Security

  • A culture stressing minimalism, cleanliness, and safety.  It doesn’t mean crime is nonexistent in Japan (it does happen of course here and there), but compared to other countries, Japan is relatively one of the safest.  You’ll find that mostly everyone follows the law, will almost always turn in lost belongings, etc.
  • For example, it’s quite easy to jump over the metro ticket meter to get on the train, but you will rarely see anyone do such a thing- such as stealing or breaking the rules.
People of Japan Come Together After the Tsunami Hit in 2011

Respect, Honor, and Politeness

  • You will rarely see people being obnoxious or loud in public bringing attention to themselves (yes, there may be the occasional Japanese people that are intoxicated walking home, singing karaoke, or at the bars/restaurants..laughing, joking around, but it’s not to the extent of binge drinking compared to that in say the US for that matter) – if there is an argument between people or a drunk person in public, often times, people will mind their own business and will not interrupt – they will look away or stay away from you because it’s the norm to “mind your own business”.
  • Often times, Japanese culture may be “too polite” (they won’t tell you or they’ll keep it to themselves) where they always “lower themselves” or sacrifice what they want for others and not cause “drama” or conflict. They don’t want to be a burden on others and try to avoid confrontation at all costs.


  • Most couples only hold hands in public (they don’t show a LOT of “PDA” or say, in the club, people are don’t “dance up on each other” like in the US.  Girls don’t dress “sexy”- they dress and act “cute” almost like a little girl.
  • A culture defined by numerous “cute” cartoon characters, anime characters, and even cartoon logos for major companies and products.
  • Walking through Japan, you will notice “round, bubbly” cute letters, fonts, design style, architecture, streets, etc.

Underground Culture

  • A conservative culture has a double side to it where there are rumored vending machines with “underwear” in it, “risque” manga/anime, the “hostess bars” where women are dressed up as hostesses/maids and serve you food/drinks.  Men will even pay the women just to talk and hang out with them.  There are also “Love Hotels” where you can “rent a room/bed per hour” and the room has a heart shaped bed, colorful, and themed.  You also hear about the “Yakuza” culture of those who have “tattoos” and control the small towns, but take care of them nicely as long as people listen to them and don’t cause any trouble for them.
  • Remember, that EVERYTHING is smaller there! smaller clothing sizes, smaller portions in food, (Japanese people are typically smaller/shorter) smaller doorways, EVERYTHING! tiny houses side by side without large lawns, tiny bedrooms/lofts, bathrooms and kitchens half the size of houses, etc in the US


  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_technology_in_Japan
  • 4 story train stations with built in malls
  • Streetlights that play music! Taxis with doors that open by themselves!
  • Bathrooms with long walls/stalls that touch the ground around you (the bathroom stall is like a “room”) and toilets with warm/heater seat covers, several buttons where it shoots up water to help you “wipe” and clean.
  • There cell phones have been WAY AHEAD OF OUR TIME (they don’t have touch screens) BUT their internet/phones were way faster 5 years ago in 2007! You can add several more emoticons – you can hit another person’s phone and exchange information. They add cute little charms on their phones and cameras.


  • When you greet/meet someone and say bye, always bow with your hands/arms straight on your side, with your head down (also when you leave the restaurant after you eat)
  • Always give and bring gifts or bring something when meeting others, staying at their place, or attending dinner
  • There are signs in English of the cities in train/metro stations.
  • However, most people do not speak English there.  You probably could get away with it and try to find workers that speak English, but for the most part, you will need to practice Japanese.
  • Keep in mind they have 3 alphabets – Hiragana (original Japanese language), Katakana (alphabet for foreign words that do not belong in original Japanese – for example, most American words like Mcdonalds, etc.), and Kanji (symbols borrowed from Chinese characters).  Mostly everything is in Kanji nowadays (magazines, newspaper etc with over hundreds of thousands of kanji characters that you would need to memorize as a Japanese person).
  • They even have different tenses that “lower themselves” or “humble themselves” when speaking to someone else, as well as an “honorific form” when speaking to a superior.  Japanese culture is never to boast about oneself.
  • Sometimes on signs, ads, karaoke songs, or randomly on someone’s shirt you will see english phrases and sometimes they make sense as well.
  • http://japanese.about.com/od/japanesecultur1/a/Japanese-Gestures.htm
  • http://members.shaw.ca/alappel/useful.html
  • When you are done or want the check, you can cross your fingers or arms like an X.
  • If you don’t want something you can put your arm/hand straight and almost like a salute, but instead lower near your mouth/nose.  Keep the salute form up and down a bit near your mouth/nose as if “something smells” or “you’re waving the air” or “you’re calling someone over” in a 45 degree angle – that means you don’t want any! (it’s hard to explain)
  • Yes, they do the peace sign a lot in pictures because it’s cute! sometimes they will hold their peace sign differently like their thumb is in the middle between the 2 fingers/peace and it’s slightly tilted
  • When they call someone to come towards them, they hold their hand palm down and do a sweeping movement towards them.
  • They often point to their face when referring to themselves.


  • http://www.fashioninjapan.com/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_street_fashion
  • http://www.japanesestreets.com/
  • http://www.japaneselifestyle.com.au/fashion/fashion.html
  • Japanese culture is very dressy and fashionable.
  • Walking through the streets or train stations, you might notice that people don’t really wear super bright clothing that stands out. (However, in Harajuku * Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls* and Shinjuku they often wear the maid dresses, costumes, and outfits that are very “out there” and stand out).
  • In the summer time, it will be incredibly hot and sweaty and people will still wear conservative clothes such as shirts, skirts, and heels for the women (you don’t see them wearing tube tops, spaghetti strap tops, and short shorts); business collared shirts/pants for the men – dabbing their heads with handkerchiefs. During winter time, you will find several of the women in heels, tights, peacoat jackets, stylish jeweled nail/nail polish as well.
  • There are  LOTS of businessmen who wear black and white. At times, you might feel like you stand out and feel different.
  • Since most people walking around are Japanese (occasional travelers- not that diverse compared to LA, etc.), sometimes people stare at anyone that looks different just because they’re not used to it or not that exposed to diverse array of cultures.  Or the locals might avoid looking at you. If you are very tall, say over 6 feet tall, sometimes they even get off the sidewalk you’re walking because they are just being polite and making space. It’s understandable that some people might say they feel lonely traveling there, but if you make friends with the locals, then they are SUPER nice and sweet. Some locals might even buy gifts for you even if they never met you or barely know you.

Customer Service

  • They have EXCELLENT customer service!
  • Practically all workers wear similar uniforms, gloves, etc.
  • They always bow, say “Irashaimasse! Welcome!” = literally means “we are graced by your presence” when you enter the store. Everyone greets, always say hello, thank you, goodbye when you enter and leave anywhere you go.  Customer Service is the same everywhere across the board.
  • They fold and wrap everything you buy. They put your change on a tray and they don’t put it directly in your hand.
  • They try to make everything as convenient, accomodating, and helpful for you as possible.
  • When you go shopping, they will carry the clothes for you and put it in the fitting room – you have to take your shoes off before entering.

Japanese Home

  • Entering a house you take your shoes off and turn it so it’s facing the door. So when you leave the house, it’s already facing the direction you’re going and it’s easier to put your feet in.  They also have house slippers for you to use as well.
  • Japanese Bath – Ofuro
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furo
  • Typically, in the home bathroom, it is very tiny.  Japanese people take baths at night. They typically do not shower in the morning.  Before entering the bath, next to it is a stool and a shower area where you can sit or stand shower and wash yourself. It almost looks like you wouldn’t even shower there- you’re showering over the regular floor of that particular style bathroom (you’re not going into a stall or a tub).  It’s hard to explain.
  • Technically, it’s a shower head that you hold to wash yourself. After you are clean, they get the bath ready filled with special bath beads in it. Then you relax in the large (large for them) deep bath tub.  They say it’s good for your health!
  • Japanese Hot Springs – Onsen
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen
  • You go into public bath by gender – all male and there’s all female.  You go in naked.  (showering beforehand). Afterwards, you have a beer and it is one of the most amazing feelings you’ll ever experience! 🙂  Most are wooden, but several are natural hot springs in the mountains as well.
  • There are also natural baths especially in Izu and Atami outside of Tokyo.  Will post this soon! (there are also private baths if needed)
  • There are so many fun festivals! Definitely recommend O-hanami in the spring and Hanabi fireworks festivals in the summer!
  • Cherry Blossoms are very beautiful and unique to Japan!  They bloom around end of March/early April and it’s great for people to go out, do a picnic, or just walk around and look at the Cherry Blossoms. They even have Cherry Blossom sake and mochi!
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_festivals
  • Famous for Japanese Scary movies such as The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye, etc.
Other popular movies such as:
TV Shows
Japan has its very own unique style of Japanese cartoons from its large eyes, clothes, and emoticon- emotional expressions.
  • Some fave bands:
  • Def Tech (unfortunately they split up, but enjoy these songs 🙂 )
  • Angela Aki
  • Oyafukomono
  • Sasakureta Kokoro
  • Bubble Blues
  • Misuki Danchi


  • http://www.x-rates.com/d/JPY/table.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_yen
  • Money is in Yen/En. So if it’s 1000 yen/en (then it’s really 10.00 in dollars)
  • Exchange your money when you arrive there.
  • When you get to the Narita airport, you need to take a train into Tokyo..it’s about 30 minutes?
  • If you want to splurge, live comfortably without worrying, then we would suggest spending around $100 per day.
  • It is pretty expensive in Japan in general.
  • (But of course, you can always travel on a budget and you don’t necessarily need to spend this amount per day )


If you live in the US, to know the hour in Japan, simply add 4 hours to whatever time it is and remember it’s the opposite. For example, if it’s 1:30am here, then it’s 5:30pm there – day ahead of the US! 🙂
Helpful Cultural Resources







Stay Tuned..

More Photos and Videos in “Must See, Eat, Do Tokyo Recommendations” Coming Soon!

If you would like to help other travelers and share your cultural experiences,
feel free to post it on
or email us at info@travelganas.com

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