8 Japanese Culture Facts You Have to Know!

Published August 24th, 2021

Japan is a country rich in culture and history. There’s no denying that. The Japanese people pride themselves in their cultural heritage. Everything from food and clothing to customs and manners, there’s a seamless blend of old and new in Japan’s culture.

A lot of Japanese cultural aspects are worlds apart for most of us. Whether you’re planning to just travel to Japan or settling down here, you might be curious about some Japanese culture facts before your trip. Here are 8 Japanese culture facts you have to know!

1. Bowing is the Japanese way of handshake

Senior Caucasian Businessman and Young Japanese Entrepreneur Bowing, Kyoto, Japan

For most Western countries, the handshake is the most common way to greet someone. Regardless of whether or not you are close to the person, a handshake is the most ideal. In Japan, however, the handshake is replaced with a bow. Bowing is basically the Japanese way of greeting.

There are various types of bow and with various customs attached to them. It can range from a slight nod to a full 90º bow. It depends on the situation what kind of bow to use. Arms are usually at the side of the body, but sometimes you can bow with your hands behind your back or on your chest.

When in doubt, a standard 45º bow with hands by your side is a safe bet.

2. Baseball is very popular

Just like how football is extremely popular in America and soccer is popular in the UK, Japan has baseball. Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan, even though sumo is the country’s national sport. While sumo is the sport people often associate the country with, baseball is the sport most locals watch and play.

Introduced during the Meiji Period and became popular after World War II, Japan has two professional baseball leagues. Because it’s popular among school students, there are dozens of high school and university teams, too. Just like how American fans are with football matches and British fans at soccer matches, Japanese fans go crazy with chants and singing during baseball games.

3. Drinking and eating while walking is rude

This next one is something I’m guilty of doing all the time. It’s pretty common to see someone munching on a bag of chips or sipping coffee on the way to work in a lot of country’s. In Japan, drinking and eating while walking around is rude. When buying food or beverage at a convenience store, you’ll see people standing outside the store and finishing their purchase before walking away.

Nowadays, it’s becoming less rude as compared to the olden days, but it’s still considered low-class behaviour and looked down upon. Some also think that it’s because eating and drinking while walking can make the streets dirty. Whatever the reason is, let’s avoid doing this as much as we can when in Japan.

4. Omiyage aren’t just souvenirs

When we start learning Japanese, we learn the word “omigaye” (お土産). It usually translates to “souvenir”. The word actually has more meaning to it. It’s not like what we would refer to as souvenirs, like magnets and keychains. Omiyage refers to gifts you bring back for family, friends and co-workers after a trip, usually specialty food from various regions.

Omiyage is often expected in Japanese culture. It’s not like Western countries where it’s more of a special gesture. It’s best to get ones in boxes with each item individually wrapped. This makes it easier to share with a big group of people.

5. No tipping culture

Some countries require tipping in restaurants and cafes. It can be hard to adjust when in another country. In Japan, you don’t have to adjust too much, because tipping is not part of the culture here. If you were to leave extra change at the register, chances are you’ll have someone call you back because they thought you forgot your change.

6. No slamming taxi doors

When you’re in Japan, remember not to slam the taxi doors here. That’s because the taxis here are all automatic. You don’t even have to touch the door handle to get in or get out of the taxi. The driver will open and close the door for you.

Because Japanese taxi drivers are used to that, they’re not used to having the doors slammed. So keep in mind not to do that. It might give them a tiny scare from the sound of the slam!

7. Chopstick etiquette is crucial

If you’d been to Japan before, you would know that the most common utensil served at restaurants is the chopstick. You rarely see a fork in sight. Chopsticks are no casual matter in Japan. You’ve got to respect the chopstick etiquette.

There’s actually a long list of things you can and cannot do with chopsticks in Japanese culture. One of the biggest no-no’s is to stick them upright in rice. This image is associated with funeral traditions.

It’s also inappropriate to pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another. The reason behind this is for hygiene purposes.

8. Business cards are an extension of yourself

If you’re in Japan for business, bring a lot of business cards. In Japanese, this is known as ‘meishi’ (名詞). A business card is considered as an extension of oneself. Because of that, you ought to handle them with care. For both receiving and giving, be sure to do them with both hands.

When you receive a business card, be sure to read it carefully and place it in front of you until the meeting or encounter ends. Do not shove it in your bag or back pocket of your trousers. This is considered extremely rude. Put it away in your wallet or a file. Similarly, when you give your business card to another person, they would treat it with utmost care.

Which is the most important Japanese culture fact?

There are dozens, if not hundreds, more of Japanese culture facts. But these 8 are important for you to know, especially before going to Japan. Which one of these are the most important in your opinion?