Category: Japanese Culture


Japanese Tea Ceremony

Introduction

Who doesn’t like a good cup of freshly brewed tea? The Japanese definitely do! They love it so much that they have their very own ritual, dating back to the 14th century! You’ll be surprised at how serious they take their tea. There are even schools in Kyoto dedicated to educating the proper ways of performing the Japanese tea ceremony. 

This classical Japanese art of refinement is more than just the act of drinking tea. Deeply ingrained in the culture, the Japanese tea ceremony encompasses everything from refined presentation to serene aesthetics. Discover this delicate art of the Japanese tea ceremony in this article — everything you need to know including the tea etiquette and tools is just a scroll away!

What Is A Japanese Tea Ceremony?

The Japanese tea ceremony has a few ways to call it: chanoyu (茶の湯), chado (茶道), and even “The Way of Tea”. This tea-drinking ritual focuses on receiving guests and serving matcha green tea with traditional sweets alongside — all the while using prescribed special tools and detailed actions.

It’s not any kind of tea ritual. The Japanese tea ceremony has a specific procedure to go about it that’s only unique to Japan. The Japanese have been drinking tea for the longest time. It was only in the 16th century that the tea-drinking ceremony became a ritualized practice. Till this very day, it has been preserved and considered part of the Japanese culture. 

The Japanese tea ceremony has an aesthetic of simplicity and understated, known as the wabi-sabi (わびさび). This style has influenced a huge part of Japanese art and culture as well as cuisine. What you see today in Japanese culture had some roots in the Japanese tea ceremony in some way or the other.

History of The Japanese Tea Ceremony

China has been practicing ritual drinking for as long as anyone can remember. It was only introduced to Japan in the 9th century. This came about when a Buddhist monk brought back from his travel to China a tea plant. He then served the emperor of the time the tea. Since then, tea plantations have never been the same — the emperor gave an imperial decree to cultivate a widespread tea plantation in the country. 

For three centuries, ritual tea drinking wasn’t consistently practiced. Only in the 12th century did it become a regular thing. Initially, the Zen monks drank tea to stay awake when they were having long meditation sessions. It naturally became an active part of Zen ritual now. The 13th century was when the tea-drinking scene became a symbol of nobility and status. Only the luxury could afford tea then. There were tea-tasting parties among the samurais and warriors where they had to guess the right variety of tea. 

It wasn’t long after, in the 15th and 16th centuries when two of the most influential figures in Japanese tea history popped up. Murata Juko set the core values of Japanese tea ceremony that are still practiced and respected till today: reverence, purity in blood and spirit, calmness and freedom from desire, and respect. These values were the exact opposite of what the tea ritual was about at the beginning in Japan. However, ever since Juko, the Japanese society gradually picked up the tea ceremony on their own.

The other influencer, Sen Rikyu, brought to the table a style of Japanese tea ceremony that is now known as the wabi-cha (侘び茶), which means simplicity. This Japanese tea ceremony style is one of the most popular ones in the present day as it puts emphasis on four key principles: respect, purity, tranquility, and harmony. Rikyu strongly believed in the unique encounter between people and no meeting can ever be reproduced the same way again. This belief is strongly present in this style of the Japanese tea ceremony. The wabi-cha has also inspired the style of teaware aesthetics of a similar concept — simple yet seemingly rustic.

Cost & Duration of A Japanese Tea Ceremony

You might think a centuries-old traditional experience would be charged at an exceptionally high price. Think again! It’s actually not that sky-high cost! The average cost of a tea ceremony experience depends on the location and the number of people that participate in the ceremony. A group Japanese tea ceremony experience can go as low as ¥2,000. A private booking ranges from ¥4,000 to ¥12,000.

When it comes to the duration of a standard Japanese tea ceremony, it’s best to put aside at least two hours and at best three. The duration of one can vary depending on the location as well, so it’s best to check beforehand before booking so you can plan your day accordingly!

The Basic Etiquette of Japanese Tea Ceremony

You’d expect a highly-regarded cultural ritual to come with a set of etiquette to abide by — you’re spot on. There are more than a few rules that it’s hard to say if the Japanese themselves know them all. Here are the top three ones to keep in mind:

Sit in a seiza position

The traditional Japanese way to sit in Japan is the seiza (正座) position. It is known as the proper way of sitting by the people. This way of seating involves placing your knees on the floor and resting your bum at the top of your feet. The top parts of your feet are expected to be flat on the ground. Don’t forget to sit up straight, now! 

It might get a little bit of getting used to, but it’s all part of the experience, am I right?

Appreciate everything

The Japanese tea ceremony is all about appreciation. Look around the tea room and take in every tiny detail. Every item, from the utensils to the wall art, is picked out and prepared specially for the tea ceremony. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about the ceremony or even the tea room. The Japanese are more than happy to answer them! It’s even considered polite.

Appreciation also comes in another form, and that is not leaving any drink or food behind. Consume everything served to you. Don’t worry, you won’t be full by the end — it’s not a full course meal.

No touching with open palms

Quite a handful of people aren’t aware of this but try not to touch things with open palms during the Japanese tea ceremony. Instead, use a closed fist as a default hand position throughout the entire ritual. You might even impress the host for knowing such an etiquette!

What To Wear During A Japanese Tea Ceremony

As a foreigner, we’re sometimes lucky enough to get the foreigner pass. But let’s not take advantage of that, especially if we’re in the country to experience the truest cultural experience it can provide. The proper Japanese tea ceremony attire involves traditional Japanese wear like the kimono. Most tea houses offer kimono rental services so customers can fully immerse themselves in the experience.

Alternatively, dressing modestly without showing off unnecessary skin does the job. Tight-fitting clothes might get uncomfortable since you’ll be sitting on the tatami mat floors for a few hours. Also, since guests are required to take off their shoes, wearing white, clean socks as a substitute for the traditional tabi is like paying respect to the Japanese culture.

How To Drink Tea During A Japanese Tea Ceremony

When the tea is served to you, bow (or nod) once and then bow again before drinking it. Pick the tea bowl with your right hand and place it on your left. Turn the bowl in a clockwise direction so the front design is not facing you anymore. Then drink the tea in two or three sips — and don’t forget the slurping noises (the Japanese take that as a sign of appreciation). Be sure to not touch the design or pattern on the bowl as it goes against the mannerisms. After finishing your tea, take some time to admire and appreciate the tea bowl. Once you’re done, turn the bowl so the front faces the host, and then bow to express your gratitude.

Tools Used During Japanese Tea Ceremony

When you’re at your tea ceremony experience, you’ll notice quite a few tools that are quite foreign to you. During a Japanese tea ceremony, there are very specific tools used for specific steps. While it’s great to ask questions, save the questions for other curiosity you might have rather than the tool names. Here are some basic ones that are required to carry out a proper tea-drinking ritual. 

Matcha (抹茶)

The Japanese matcha is a special type of Japanese green tea where the tea leaves are grounded into fine powder form. Unlike the standard green tea where you can get loose tea leaves, the matcha only comes in powder form. The flavours are so much richer because it encompasses all the initial nutrients, preserved in every grain.

Fukusa (福砂) 

The fukusa is a silk cloth used for cleaning other utensils as well as to serve the tea. The color varies for women and men. Women are often associated with the color red or orange while men use the purple colored one.

Usuki () 

The usuki is a tea caddy. This is a type of container that holds the matcha powder.

Kama (かま)

The kama is a Japanese tea pot usually made of iron and is used to heat the water for the tea. 

Cha Shaku (茶杓)

The cha shaku is a ladle used to scoop the matcha powder out of the tea caddy, or “usuke”, and it’s considered one of the most important tools in the ceremony. The size of the scoop can be up to 8 ounces per scoop.

Cha Wan (茶碗

Instead of a teacup where tea is usually served, matcha tea is served in a tea bowl known as the cha wan during a matcha tea ceremony. This is a ceramic pot, and the size and shape can vary depending on the type of tea as well as season.

Cha Sen (茶筌)

Who would’ve thought tea has their own type of whisk. In Japan, the cha sen is a bamboo whisk specially for whisking the matcha tea until the green powdered tea is perfectly frothed. 

Steps To A Japanese Tea Ceremony

Come prepared for your tea ceremony experience by educating yourself beforehand about the exact procedure and how it all goes down. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of it all, from preparation to the aftermath:

Step 1: Invitation

The host would send out formal invitations to the guests a couple of weeks prior to the actual tea ceremony date. There’s no one type of invite — it comes in all shapes and sizes. They’re mostly chosen to suit the aesthetics of their tea room and experience.

Step 2: Tea Room Preparation

The tea room that will hold the ceremony will be prepared accordingly based on the season. Depending on how the host likes it, the tatami mats can be changed, tools used for the ceremony can be switched out and decorations can be swapped. Sometimes, a preparation can just be a clean sweep of the area as well as a supply check.

Step 3: Receiving The Guests 

The host of the tea ceremony would then formally invite the guests into the tea room. The guests are required to wash their hands as acts of purity and take their seats according to rank. Occasionally, the host will offer traditional sweets. 

Step 4: Initial Cleaning of the Tools

At the start of the Japanese tea ceremony, the host will ritually purify the tools of the tea ceremony set by cleansing them individually.

Step 5: Preparing the Matcha 

After that, the host will go on to prepare the thick matcha. Following that, there will be another round of cleansing of the tools. The thin matcha is then prepared after the cleansing. Look forward to the confections that are being served during this time.

Step 6: Cleaning the Tools

After the formal tea ceremony, the host would once again clean the tools. After each tool is cleaned, it will be passed down so that the guest of honor can examine and appreciate the craftsmanship of the tools.

Step 7: The Departure of Guests

At the end of the tea ceremony experience, the host will show the way out for the guests. As the guests depart, the host would bow to each of them individually.

Conclusion

The Japanese tea ceremony is so full of history and culture that it is just too big for some of us to comprehend! If you think the theory of tea ceremony is intriguing just by reading and hearing about them, wait till you experience one for yourself! Nothing beats a first-hand encounter, especially with something as unique and mesmerizing as the Japanese tea ceremony!

The Various Names of Japan

Introduction

Most of us know Japan this present day simply as what it is: Japan. For the local Japanese people, their home country is known to be “Nihon”. How can one country have various names? This one does.

That’s not all there is to it. It may come as a surprise to some, but Japan wasn’t recognized as Japan or Nihon the whole time in history. There have been a few different names that contributed to the build-up to the current proud names. We’ll stroll through the historical times of Japan, even far before the country had any written records about themselves; the country was a verbal one than it was a written one for an extremely long time, so in truth, we’ll never truly know exactly what the earliest people of Japan call themselves.

Regardless, let’s follow the advancement and changes of the various names of this island nation to grasp the concept of its respectful names today.

Oyashima, The Eight Islands

Kokiji (古記事), which translates to “Records of Ancient Matters” or “Account of Ancient Matters”, is the oldest Japanese text in history to ever exist, dating back to 500AD. This ancient text consists of accounts like Japanese myths and legends, all written in classical Japanese writing system which is the Chinese kanji (漢字) characters but read and pronounced with Japanese sounds.

One of the texts in the kokiji tells the story of the birth of Japan. It is said that the first Gods (in Japanese mythology anyway), named Kunitokotachi and Amenominakanushi, created two beings. They were then ordered to create the first lands by using a heavenly spear that was given to them to stick into the sea. When they pulled out the spear, eight drops of saltwater were created which then made self-forming islands. These islands are known as modern-day Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. At the start, these islands were collectively known as Oyashima (大八洲) which means “The Great Eight Islands”.

Even though there are written accounts of the birth of Japan, it is unclear and unknown whether or not the people of Japan at the time referred to themselves as people of Oyashima.

Nakoku Kingdom

Moving on from Oyashima, let’s introduce the next name of Japan in history. In the past, before the country became one whole, there were various groups of people that make up Japan. One of them was from modern-day Fukuoka and they were the first-ever ones with written records of the names of Japan. 

In the ancient Chinese historical records during the Yayoi Period, there were writings about the “Nakoku” (奴国). It was said that the Guangwu Chinese Emperor gifted the first Japanese envoy who visited China in 57AD with their own imperial seal. Now, this imperial seal, which translates to “King of the Japanese Country of Na, vassal to the Han”, is a national treasure.

There was another Chinese record that showed that the Nakoku returned the goodwill in the form of New Years’ tribute, much like what a real, legitimate country would do. Other than these records, there aren’t any others about the Nakoku Kingdom or any other groups of people during this time.

Wakoku, The Land of Wa

While the Nakoku Kingdom sounded very mysterious, they were just a representation of a part of Japan rather than a whole. The first written record of Japan as a whole country instead of separate islands is during the Three Kingdoms period in 220AD to 280AD. The ancient Chinese texts referred to Japan as Wakoku (倭国) — there weren’t any explanations as to why they were called that by the Chinese. 

Let’s take a look at the kanji characters for Wakoku. “Koku” () refers to “country” and it’s as straightforward as it gets. What’s quite interesting is the “wa” (倭) kanji. This kanji is to refer to Japan as a country but the kanji itself has two different meanings behind it. It could mean “submissive people” because of the strokes of kanji looking like people bending down and carrying grain on their back; it could also mean “dwarfism” due to the physical structure based on the kanji strokes. 

For the longest time, the former meaning is more often regarded. But after a long while, the Japanese people realized that the latter term is a more derogatory term and wasn’t too happy about it.

The People of Yamato

There’s a group of native Japanese people that resided in modern-day Honshu during the 6th century and they were the largest group of them all. They were known as the Yamato and they also used the same kanji character used in Wakoku to write their name Yamato (大倭). In the 8th century, the Yamato became the representative group of ancient Japan somehow.

At one point, the Yamato decided that they didn’t want to use the 倭 kanji due to its negative meaning; they then changed it to a different kanji, 和. This kanji has the meaning of harmony, balance, and peace, but it wasn’t originally pronounced as “wa”. Despite that, Wakoku went from 倭国 to 和国 and Yamato went from 大倭 to 大和 — both pronounced the same as before, just with different meanings due to the change in kanji characters.

If you notice to this day, the 和 kanji is used for various things related to Japan like Japanese food (washoku, 和食) and Japanese clothing (wafuku, 和服).

Nihon, The Land of the Rising Sun

After the ruckus of Wakoku and Yamato, we will finally see how the name we now know and love came about. Around the same time in the 8th century, the idea of “The Land of the Rising Sun” and “Sun Origin” popped in peoples’ heads. 

There are actually quite a few renditions of how the name originated. There’s this book called “The Old Book of Tang” where it tells the story of the Japanese envoy, who visited China in the beginning, going back there and requesting a change of the country name because he disliked the previous name. 

Another one is from a Japanese text called “The True Meaning of Shiji” where it mentioned that the Chinese Empress Wu Zetian was the one who ordered the change of name.

Regardless of how the change came about, what matters is it did. The country name then switched to Nihon (日本). The kanji of this name had the literal meaning of “origin of the sun”, probably referring to the location of the country being on the east of China, and to the Chinese, that was where the sun rises from.

What makes Nihon the perfect name for this country is that it perfectly coincides with the Japanese mythology about the sun goddess, Amaterasu. She plays a huge role in Japanese culture, even to this very day!

Nihon vs Nippon

Now, I know we’re all thinking: “Is it Nihon or Nippon?” The simplest answer to it is that they’re both the same! Everything from how it is written to the meaning has no difference. You can say Nihon or Nippon to a Japanese person and they will know exactly what they’re referring to: their home country. 

If you’re still not satisfied with the explanation, there’s actually a very slight difference; it’s how the words are being used in situations. “Nihon” is generally used as the regular name of Japan, while “Nippon” is used when referring to the country in official situations like stamps, banks, and money. I guess, to the Japanese, “Nippon” sounds more official and formal than “Nihon”.

Japan

Now, if the Japanese call their country Nihon (or Nippon), then why do the rest of the world call it Japan? Here’s where it gets a bit lost in translation — quite literally, actually — and there are quite a few story variations of how the name came about. But all of them have one thing in common: it all balls down to the pronunciations and identification of the kanji of Nihon.

Let’s take a look at the two kanjis. 日 can be pronounced as “jitsu” on top of “ni”. 本 can be read as “hon” or “pon”. If you combine these two, readings like “jitsu-pon” are also possible — and they can sound similar to “zipang” or “japon”. 

Just like how the Japanese have a few ways of pronouncing one kanji, so do the Chinese. They have more than a few ways of reading depending on their dialects — Cantonese pronounced it as “Jat-bun”; the Mandarin Chinese pronounced it as “Rib-ben”; the Shanghainese pronounced it as “Zep-pen”; the Fujianese pronounced it as “Jit-pun”.

There had been quite a bit of Portuguese-Japan trade in those days as well. Stories about how the Portuguese pronounce the country’s name “Cipan” came up. There were others who believed that it came from the Malay word of the country’s name which is “Jepun”; that sounds extremely similar to the Chinese pronunciations. 

Among all the speculations, there’s one story that’s the most popular. Who hasn’t heard of the extremely well-known Italian explorer Marco Polo? He was the first-ever person to introduce Japan to the rest of the world by writing about the country in his travel diaries. It’s debatable on whether or not he actually traveled to Japan, but in his writings, he referred to Japan as “Zipangu”. It’s not even certain where he heard that from — maybe on his adventures, or maybe from traders’ pronunciations. Because tons of people read Marco Polo’s adventure stories, it sheds light on the country Zipangu, which over time evolved into what we now know as Japan.

Conclusion

What a long history roller coaster Japan’s country name went on — from the Great Eight Islands to The Land of the Submissive People, and now proudly the Land of the Rising Sun. Whether you pronounce it as Nihon or Japan, they both hold the same meaning of the sun origin. With all these changes, you’ll never know what Japan is going to be called next — if it ever changes. We’ll have to wait and see, and let the magic of time do the work!

Tattoos in Japan

Introduction

Japan has built quite a reputation for itself when it comes to tattoos. Tattoos have made a mark (pun intended) way back in the history of Japan, as far back in the 5,000BC. The ancient tale of Japanese tattoos carved the scene of this art-on-skin today. The quality and techniques of Japanese tattoos are unquestionable. 

Japanese tattoos are highly regarded because the skills of Japanese tattoo artists have been passed down from generation to generation. People all around the world look up to Japanese tattoos while the locals have almost the complete opposite outlook. Despite the negative association, tattoos still take up a significant portion of the Japanese culture. Discover the backstory to this Japanese body art and how it has evolved to this day.

A History of Japanese Tattoos

FELICE BEATO c. 1870 in JAPAN. They have TRADITIONAL TOP

Just like every other aspect of Japanese culture, Japanese tattoos have a rich and long history. Japanese tattoos are also known as wabori (和彫) which means Japanese-style engravings. its existence that dates back to the fifth millennium BC. During this time, it was believed that people had tattoos to mark their social ranks. Some also had them as a superstitious belief to fend off evil spirits. 

The irezumi — a criminal punishment

Irezumi (入れ墨) refers to the general act of putting ink onto the skin. The use of irezumi for symbolism and superstitious reasons started to fade around the 7th century. It was then used as punishment instead of severe crimes like murder and treason instead of the death penalty. Tattoos were a way to identify criminals in those days. They were disowned by their own families, outclassed, and even banned from participating in any combined activities.

These irezumi can be found on any part of the body. The most common areas were the face and arms. The intriguing part is that the irezumi designs weren’t categorized by the act of crime. Instead, it was categorized by the region that the crime was committed. Examples include the Hiroshima criminals being identified by the dog symbol tattoo and the Fukuoka criminals had lines tattooed all the way around their upper arms.

The tebori — a tattoo style invented by the former woodcarvers 

It took centuries before the use of tattoos became more than just a symbol of crime. Tattoos were prohibited at the beginning of the eighteenth century. At the same time, they became a decorative art form inspired by woodblock prints. These woodblock prints were often created with a unique style of art called Ukiyo-e to illustrate plays and novels. Ukiyo-e artists team up with woodcarvers to manifest these woodblock prints. The artists would draw or paint the design on a block of wood and then afterward the woodcarvers would simply carve it out.

Their tremendous hand-eye coordination skills of the woodcarvers were not paying off. They weren’t earning anywhere close to enough. Because of that, they sought out other potential works and it was then that the tebori (手彫り) came about. Tebori is a type of tattoo unique to Japan as it is based on the carving techniques of the ancient woodcarvers. 

Not only did this conversion of woodcarvers to tattoo artists result in a spike in numbers of tattooed people, especially in the lower social class citizens, but it also influenced the style of Japanese tattoos today. These woodcarvers-turned-tattoo artists were inspired by Ukiyo-e style of art for their tattoo designs— everything from folklore to religion.

Decorative tattoos — marks of the Yakuza

The lower class citizens migrated to modern-day Tokyo about the same time as the birth of tebori. These migrants included the Yakuza, who consisted of people like gang members and outlaws. The Yakuza would be seen with a bunch of tattoos. These tattoos symbolized courage as well as loyalty — because of the extreme pain to get the tattoos and also the permanency of it. 

Outlaws with punishment tattoos took advantage of the rise in decorative tattoos to cover up their existing tattoos. Their punishment tattoos were covered up with larger ones befitting the style of tattoos back then. This evolution of tattoos— from marks of criminal acts to decorative body art — brought about the association of organized crime with tattoos in the present day. 

Horimono — The Golden Age

Despite the hype of tattoos in previous centuries, it only peaked in Japan during the late eighteenth century. It is because of a Chinese folklore story that got translated into Japanese, completed with Ukiyo-e illustrations. This folk story, known as Suikoden, narrated the journey of outlaws fighting their corrupted rulers and became the heroes of the common townspeople. The people of Edo strongly relate with the characters of the narrative and its boosted popularity was because of that.

There were various artists that illustrated Suikoden in different versions that included tattoos in their art. Nothing beats this woodblock print artist, Utagawa Kuniyoshi. He portrayed the popular characters of the story with full-bodied engravings. This revolutionized Japanese tattoos by birthing a new style of tattoos known as the horimono (彫り物) which translates to “things that have been engraved”. 

The beginning of the nineteenth century can be known as the Golden Age of horimono. Full-bodied engravings were seen in more than just Ukiyo-e prints. Other forms of the Japanese art culture like plays and songs portrayed characters fully tattooed in the horimono style.

Unfortunately, every good thing has to come to an end. And so did the horimono. This tattoo style suffered a dramatic decline during the Meiji Restoration when the strict, oppressive regulations were implemented. In the mid-1900s, the ban was lifted, and the tattoo scene in Japan started growing again.

Today’s Japanese on Tattoos

Regardless of the substantial historical evidence of tattoo culture in ancient Japanese culture, there has long been a standing link between tattoos and illegal activities. It is proven to be difficult to change this specific mindset. The automatic judgement of one being classified as a “bad guy” when he’s seen with a tattoo has been occurring throughout the country for a while. 

There have been a number of experience exchanges of tattooed people in Japan. It’s a balance of positive and negative feedback, and glances on the streets are more of curiosity than disapproval.

Some Japanese do have their own tattoos. Many of them just keep it well hidden and covered. Exposing or revealing them is rather rare in Japan due to social reasons and the need for employment. These prevailing rules and social norms in Japan have had various rebellions, but it seems like the progress for change is going at a snail’s pace. At least there is progress, right?

The Ban of Tattoos in Public Facilities

While it is still tolerated to expose body art in places where one normally expects it to be — in subways, public streets and most restaurants — some very specific places implemented a strict ban against tattoos. For example, almost all bathing facilities, like the onsen, and public facilities, like a public spa, gym, and swimming pool, forbid entry to anyone who is seen with tattoos on their body. Some believe it’s to prevent contamination of the waters and consideration for other users. There are others who believe that it’s to keep out the Yakuzas from onsens.

Due to the increase of tourism, especially from the West, Japan has seen more and more people with body art roaming their streets, and eventually demanding access to their facilities. As a temporary answer to this, there have been special facilities that are just for people with tattoos, and a few onsens have made their ruling slightly more lenient. This includes allowing tattooed people to just cover up their tattoos to allow entry to these public facilities. 

Tattoo Studios in Japan

Tattoos have long existed in history, perfecting the Japanese-exclusive techniques and skills. It’s no surprise that the tattoos scene in Japan is far from amateurish. Some might even say they’re one of the top few experts!

Despite its relaxed laws on tattoos, there is still a bit of coldness on the matter. From public perception to the difficulties attached to it, tattoo businesses aren’t exactly having a walk in the park. Tattoo studios in Japan aren’t like the ones in other countries where you’ll see them evidently on the streets. Even though the standard, western-style tattoos parlours are still available, the most popular type of tattoo studios in Japan is the private studio.

Private tattoo studios are extremely popular in Japan. These private studios are generally home-based. The place consists of a separate room or area dedicated to the proceedings of tattooing inside the tattoo artist’s own home. Sometimes, it could be a separate apartment altogether where the artist rents out the room just for his work. It’s not uncommon if there isn’t any signage to indicate where the studio is. Don’t worry, they’re not shady business — it majorly has to do with the negative associations of tattoos.

Don’t let that sway you from going under the needle in Japan. It’s all a matter of knowing where to look for quality, authentic wabori.

Enjoying the Tattoo Life in Japan

There have been obvious shifts in how tattoos are viewed in Japan over the past few years. The Japanese are more and more influenced by the West and Japan’s booming tourism. Because of that, the younger generations have started to loosen up. Don’t take it personally if an old granny stares at your body art with disapproval. The youngins would definitely have more appreciation. In fact, it might even be a fascination.

Even though Japan is changing when it comes to tattoos, it is still best to be safe than sorry. Take extra measures to cover up your tattoos when visiting sacred places, public facilities, beaches, and ryokans. Despite the supposed strict ban in bathing facilities, many travelers and locals alike have noted that they were let off with covering them up temporarily just to get into the onsen.

The Wrap-up

Tattoos have come a long way in Japanese culture — from using this form of body art as a criminal punishment to now an appreciated art form. Regardless of the still-existing disapproval, Japan is being more open-minded about it now than it was centuries ago. Progress is key, and who knows where The Land of The Rising Sun will be in a few decades from now when it comes to tattoos.

Do’s & Dont’s in Japan

Introduction

The reputation of Japan’s culture and etiquette precedes them. Some of us have been there — breaking an unspoken yet mutual rule of Japan unintentionally. At some point, the topic of how things actually work in this culturally rich country is bound to pop up. 

If you’re not born in Japan or have lived long enough in the country, you wouldn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of it. That applies to most, if not all, countries but it’s even more prominent in Japan. The unique customs, social norms, and rules that regulate the society and relations can be pretty far off compared to what some of us are used to.

Even if foreigners tend to get a “free pass” in most situations, it’s best to not take advantage of that. Knowing a few basics here and there can go a long way, especially if you’re considering settling down (or already are) in Japan. Discover the top things foreigners should and should not do in Japan!

The Top 5 Do’s In Japan

The first few things you’ll notice in Japan are the acts that the Japanese do that you won’t witness anywhere else in the world. The Japanese have special customs unique to their culture. We, from the outside, may see these acts as intriguing, but to the Japanese, some of them are conventional and normal.

Instead of being straight-up lost in the translation of body language when you’re on the receiving end of these customary acts, why not learn about them prior to your trip to Japan? You might even end up doing some of these acts as well! You know what they say when in Japan, do what the Japanese do!

1. Do be early

I don’t know about you, but I personally have experienced being late even though I was actually on time. In Japan, being on time is considered late — being early is being on time. The Japanese value their time. When there is a scheduled appointment or even just a meet up with a friend, they’ll arrive earlier than the agreed time. This is their way of showing respect to the other party, regardless if it’s a client or a peer.

Even buses and trains in Japan are always on time. There’s the rare occasion of midday maintenance or circumstantial delay, but those happen once in a blue moon! If public transportation can afford to accurately arrive on time at their scheduled stops, why can’t we? 

In Japanese culture, it’s quite embarrassing to be late. Generally, it’s awkward when someone else is waiting for you after the passed arranged time to meet. Save yourself from these unwanted feelings by being punctual. Better yet, be early!

2. Do follow the queues

Queuing systems are implemented all across the world, but you’ll only see every single one of the citizens abiding by these rules in Japan. Whether it is queuing to go into a restaurant or waiting in line behind the cashier of a supermarket, the Japanese are all for lining up. In fact, they even queue for the lifts and escalators!

The Japanese obeying such a mutually implemented cultural rule stems from the group harmony mentality that the citizens love so much. Jumping and ignoring queues is equivalent to rebelling against this peaceful harmony of the Japanese culture. You wouldn’t want to be that gaijin (外人, which means foreigner), do you?

It might sound ridiculous to stand in a queue for something as mere as an escalator or lift but you’ll end up being more grateful than finding the Japanese’s obedience for the queuing system odd. Just follow the queues, it’s way better than getting dagger glares and stares from all around you.

3. Do respect the chopstick etiquette

Don’t be surprised if and when you’re not served a fork at a restaurant in Japan. In fact, expect no forks and only chopsticks instead. Even a restaurant that offers forks for cutleries offers chopsticks as well — no doubt about that. Chopsticks are quite significant in Japanese culture. Everything from how to use it to what not to do with it is clear and understood by the locals.

Because it takes up such a huge part of the Japanese culture, it sure has more than a few rules in the chopstick etiquette handbook. There are so many that it’s impossible to list them all in this write-up. It needs its own article (maybe even two)! Most of the do’s and don’ts aren’t unreasonable. They have proper reasons as to why it shouldn’t be done.

An example is sticking a chopstick upright in a bowl. This act resembles a funeral ritual which is why it’s prohibited to place the chopsticks in that manner. Placing chopsticks across the bowl signifies that you don’t want to eat anymore. If there’s still food left or you’re not done eating, it may come across as rude to the chef. It’s also considered unclean and dirty to use your chopsticks to pass food to someone else or use it to pick up food from a sharing platter. That’s because you’ve already used the chopsticks and placed them in your mouth, so it’s unhygienic to use them in the mentioned situations.

Don’t be scared to hold a pair of chopsticks now! Of course, the Japanese wouldn’t expect us, foreigners, to know every chopstick etiquette in the Japanese culture. When in doubt, just do one simple thing: don’t play with the chopsticks. That’s as simple as it gets. For a step further, as a sign of respect to the chopstick etiquette, it’s always best to ask! Whether it is the staff who’s serving you or a Japanese friend, they’ll be more than delighted to help you out!

4. Do mind the public spaces

The Japanese are all about respecting one another — from close acquaintances to strangers on the streets. Every corner of Japan is oozing with this respect and that’s because the Japanese are extremely mindful of public spaces. One of the most significant public spaces that the Japanese are extremely particular about is public transportation.

If you’ve seen pictures and videos of the packed trains in Japan, you wouldn’t believe when we say that even during such a crowd, the train is so quiet you can hear a pin drop! Groups of people will lower their voices as they step on the trains — some even end their conversations! Phones are on silent mode, no one is on the phone and even music played on headsets is at a level that wouldn’t bother the person next to them.

This mutual, unspoken rule of silence on public transportation is just out of respect for others who are commuting on the same transportation as them. You don’t know what others are going through — they might be having a rough morning or have had a long day. Join the bandwagon and mind the public spaces! 

5. Do shower first before entering the public baths

 

Japanese hot springs known more famously as the onsen (温泉) is a must-stop for locals and foreigners alike! These public baths are more often than not used as a form of relaxation rather than to cleanse oneself. Some people even go to the onsen for health reasons! The water in these public baths are always clean, and that’s not only because of the painstaking maintenance done by the staff. 

There’s an unspoken rule of showering first before entering these public baths. Similar to the previous rule, this is more because of minding the public spaces, and onsens are considered public space. You’re likely to see a showering area either right next to the hot spring bath or somewhere nearby. Be sure to use it before dipping your toes in the relaxing waters of Japan!

The Top 5 Don’ts in Japan

I bet you’ve heard of all the things you can’t do in Japan. Japan has a fair share of its don’ts, but loads of countries are the same as well! Fair enough, there are some unspoken rules here that aren’t the same as anywhere else in the world — but that’s what makes Japan even more special, doesn’t it?

Many foreigners, regardless of expats or mere tourists, can live their time in Japan being quite oblivious to the strict no-nos in Japan. While the Japanese are polite enough to give us a pass for that, why not be in the know of a few of them just to save yourself the awkward stares and encounters?

1. Don’t tip

The first and foremost don’t in Japan is tipping. Definitely no tipping in this country! Tipping is a huge part of the culture in some countries — it is even mandatory for countries like the United States! It isn’t the same in Japan, though. It’s strictly not part of the culture.

Service charge is already included in the bills of restaurants, and the Japanese are already expected to deliver only the best and highest quality of service in their work. It doesn’t matter if they’re staff at a restaurant or a taxi driver. The Japanese don’t see the need to be praised in monetary terms as that’s the bare minimum service for them.

In fact, if you do tip, you might even offend someone! Tipping can be rude for two reasons: it can imply that the staff is only providing good quality service for monetary rewards, and the other implication is that the staff aren’t paid well by the employer.

If you really insist on praising the staff for their excellent service, the best way to do that is by complimenting them in-person or even review the restaurant online. I found out that reviewing a restaurant for their exceptional service significantly helps them in terms of their ratings and getting more customers. Who knows, if you mention the individual staff in your review, that might even get them a raise!

2. Don’t wear shoes indoors

For some of us, we might wear our shoes indoors. When in Japan, never — and I repeat, NEVER — ever wear your shoes into someone’s home regardless of whose home it is. Outdoor shoes are unclean and dirty, and for this very reason, they are not to be brought into the house. Everyone wants their home to be clean. Having their indoor and outdoor shoes separate is one way for the Japanese people to go about that.

Japanese homes have an entryway called the genkan (玄関), and this is where outdoor shoes are placed. At this special entryway, the shoes are lined up neatly. Be sure to take off your shoes before entering the house. If there are indoor shoes which you’ll be able to see at the genkan, switch to those. 

This no-shoe rule does not just apply to homes. It extends to most ryokans which are traditional Japanese-style hotels, some temples and shrines, schools, and hospitals. Don’t be surprised if restaurants request you to take off your shoes before entering — especially traditional ones with tatami mats since they’re extremely delicate and can be damaged. It’s just the norm in Japan.

3. Don’t litter

One thing every foreigner notices about Japan is the lack of bins on the streets. Yet, regardless of this, the streets are almost always sparkling clean and litter-free. Amazing, isn’t it? That’s the beauty of Japan — quite literally. This is only possible because the people in the country don’t litter.

Preserve the litter-free image of the country by holding on to your rubbish if you have any. Only get rid of it when you see a bin nearby. It’s best to have a spare plastic bag with you to store all your trash and dispose of it at one go — that’s what most of the Japanese people always do! If not, they’ll hold on to it till they get home and then get rid of it then. 

If you want to be even more involved in the Japanese practice, separate your trash by plastics, papers, cans and other waste, and dispose of them accordingly. You’ll be surprised at how often these all come in a row together!

4. Don’t jaywalk

The Japanese love obeying the rules, which is why everything is almost always run so smoothly in the country. So of course, there’s no such thing as jaywalking in Japan! Plus, that’s not the only reason you shouldn’t be jaywalking. There’s the obvious one and that is because it’s dangerous!

There’s no harm in waiting for a bit. The plus side is that the traffic lights in Japan don’t take long at all! If there’s construction work or breakdown of sorts, there’s always a road worker to assist the traffic flow. Save yourself the danger as well as others’ danger of following your lead to jaywalk by simply not.

5. Don’t eat or drink on-the-go

Konbinis (コンビニ) are extremely popular in Japan. They have everything — they are called convenience stores for a reason. You’d expect tons of people grabbing a wrapped onigiri and munching on them casually as they get a step on towards their next destination. After all, it is killing two birds with one stone that we’re all guilty of.

On the contrary, you won’t catch a local Japanese chomping away as they take a stroll down the pavements. To the locals, the streets are considered dirty as hundreds of people walk on them daily and leave trails of dirt behind. Why consume food on these unclean surfaces? 

You’ll see the Japanese people standing right outside these konbinis to finish up their quick snack or lunch. It’s not just konbinis but also vending machines! Loitering around them makes it easier to bin the wrapping and cans or bottles in the respective bins before heading off. If you don’t fancy the standing and eating way, find a nearby bench or park to finish up your quick treat.

Conclusion

Japan is not Japan if it’s not for its order and system. Who knows if we’ll ever be fully familiar with the ins and outs of the Japanese culture, but we can only try! At the end of the day, the Japanese are extremely understanding of foreigners and every effort is greatly appreciated. Even the bare minimum like the do’s and don’t mentioned in this write-up is good enough, so let’s do our best! Ganbatte (頑張って)!

The Salon and Barber Culture in Japan

Introduction

We might not realise it but the occasional trip to the salon or barber is quite an essential part of our lives. Who doesn’t like a good trim or treatment — not only does it make a good impression with the maintained put-together image but you also feel refreshed and renewed for yourself.

What you’ll notice on the streets of Japan is the overly obsessive culture of maintaining visual presentation; there’s not one or two but at least five different barber shops and salons in one street alone! These barber shops and salons can come around at extremely premium costs due to the Japanese’s high quality and service. 

I don’t know about you, but I usually go to the same salon over and over again once I find the right one. I mean, I know they can deliver what I request of them and it saves me the hassle of repeating it over and over again, am I right? However, when you move or travel to a whole new country like Japan where their market is quite concentrated already, it can be tough making a choice. Everything from communication to the hairstylist’s niche skill set has to be taken into consideration. 

Not to fret, that’s what this guide is for! With this, you’ll be well on your way to deciding the best choice of barber or hair salon for your regular haircut fix in no time!

The Salon Market in Japan

The size of the salon market in Japan is no joke — it’s more than huge! When I first came to Japan and made local friends, I soon realised that there were quite a number of them that are working as a hairstylist or barber. It’s because there are tons of barbershops and salons in the country that there’s a high chance of the locals to be working in one. 

Throughout the whole time, the salon market is continuously growing in terms of profit, numbers, and size. They’ve been lucky enough to attain a handful of successes after successes. Because of the growing demand and popularity, these hair salons have been more and more creative in their store concept — even I was quite drawn into some of them!

Salons in Japan are not only for women; the men go to salons for their occasional fix. Services provided by salons aren’t limited to just women’s hair but also men’s hair. The hairstylists are trained to attend to men’s hair, but not the same as the way the barbers do it. The salons are more towards colouring, treatment and styling. Some of the Japanese men are really stylish with their hairstyles, so you know they pick the salon over the barbers then.

The Barbershop Market in Japan

The barbershops, unlike the salons, have to solely rely on male customers. What’s more, it’s the smaller group of customers that are looking for shorter, dapper haircuts. Due to the growing business of the salon market by including the male hair styling where customers switched from the barbershop to the salon, the barber market faced a slight decline in the previous years. There are also a smaller number of professional barbers around in Japan as well as chain salons opening up and providing cheaper services. 

However, in recent years, the barber industry brushed up what they were lacking on and has since maintained a consistent profit as a market. Some added a bit of the Japanese styling touch to their services so that it’ll draw in more customers. Others trained their barbers more thoroughly so they are fully equipped with the professional skills of a barber. 

Barbershop and Salon: The Actual Difference

There used to be a clear line between barbershop and salon but in recent years, especially in Japan, it has been blurred quite a bit. Barbers specialise in shorter, traditional haircuts like the buzzcut, flattop, fade and military-style cuts while the hairstylists are more for the longer hairstyles, treatment and colour — this clear distinction between them used to be crystal clear.

However, with the barbershop and salon market growing and evolving rapidly, barbers are now skilled at styling longer hairstyles and the hairstylists are more adept at using clippers for the classic men haircuts. Now both barbers and hairstylists can pretty much do everything under the sun, but people are aware that if they want a classic cut, the barber’s the way to go; if they want a stylish one, a salon is their best bet.

How To Pick A Barbershop Or Salon?

And the question remains: how does one pick the perfect barbershop or salon for themselves? Choosing the right barber is just as important as choosing the right hairstyle that best suits you. Every barber and hairstylist specialise something more than the other, and it’s on you to pick the one that can deliver what you want. Take note of these key points when choosing your barber or hairstylist: your personal price range, where the shop is located, how well-known they are and convenience in terms of communication.

Personal Budget

In Japan, the cost of barbershops and salons can go anywhere from dirt-cheap to holy-cow expensive! Have a good think of what your personal budget is and what exactly you are looking for because various services have various costs. For example, a classic cut can be anywhere from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000. Don’t be surprised to see some barbershops charging quite high for a standard cut starting off at ¥5,000; they might be using tools and products that are of higher quality than the rest.

Location

Regardless of whether you’re in Japan for travel or you’re settling down here, the location of the barbershop or salon is quite important. You’re going to frequently visit the shop, so why choose one that’s on the other side of the country? In fact, some people choose their barbershops and salons based on their location and whichever that’s easiest to get to — it can be around their home or in the center of the city where it’s more convenient to pop by. Barbershop or salon chains are quite popular due to its various locations (even though some end up going to the same one over and over again because of a specific barber or hairstylist).

Reputation

When looking into the barbershop or salon scene, you’ll probably come across the same names over and over again. That’s because some of them have quite a reputation — everyone’s talking about it and they have quite a decent size of regular customers. You might even need to book well in advance to get your preferred slot! 

The extreme support of word of mouth is due to the excellent quality and service as well as very specific and popular barbers or hairstylists. If you want to play it safe and in need of reassurance, going to a reputable barbershop or salon is probably a direction you should consider taking. However, these barbershops and salons tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum, so weigh your options out properly before making any rash decisions!

Convenience

Convenience can be anything from time to ease of communication. Some of us would prefer to have an easy flow for a haircut — go in, get it, get out. After all, it is a leisurely activity one has to pamper themselves.

Sometimes, some barbershops or salons might not have an appointment system set up, so you are required to come down earlier in the day to get a ticket for your time slot. The timings on these tickets aren’t even that accurate — it can usually exceed depending on how long they are going to take for the previous customers.

Another point for convenience is the ease of communication. Not all barbershops and salons can provide English-speaking services. In fact, most of them don’t! Japan’s first language is Japanese, and while they learn English in school, it’s best not to expect everyone to be fluent in it. Some of us would prefer to have a barber or hairstylist that they can communicate easily without the extra effort and time spent on translating their wants and needs.

How To Prepare For A Visit To The Barbershop Or Salon?

After choosing your barbershop or salon, here comes the most important part: preparing for your visit. In other countries, you might not need preparation at all. While it’s not really a requirement to prepare in Japan, it’s a good idea to, especially if it’s your first time to the place! You don’t want to be wasting your time or your trip down — or worse, getting a horrible haircut! Here are some tips to get you started before going out to get your haircut!

Prepare an image

If your Japanese skills are a little below rusty or you don’t even know a single word, then you might want to consider preparing an image of your desired haircut before going to the barbershop or salon. Try getting pictures from different sides and angles; it gives more clarity to the exact hairstyle you want. You know what they say — a picture speaks a thousand words!

Practice describing your ideal haircut

When in Japan, speak Japanese! Start off by practicing how to describe your ideal haircut in the language. You can translate it online or have someone translate it for you for that extra security of getting your perfect haircut. Hand gestures are perfect extra touches for that, too!

Here are some great keywords that are extremely useful for your visit:

Cut — katto (カット

Shampoo — shanpu (シャンプー)

Blow — buro (ブロー)

Treatment — turitomento (トリートメント)

Perm — paama (パーマ)

Hair — kami ()

Fringe — maegami (前髪)

Short — mijikai (短い)

Long — nagai (長い)

Side — yoko ()

Back — ushiro (後ろ)

Parting — wakeme (分け目)

To cut — kiru (切る)

To dye hair — kami wo someru (染める)

Make an appointment

Most barbershops and salons accept walk-ins, but don’t risk it. Try making an appointment beforehand through the barber shop’s desired means of communication. Some of them prefer a phone call for making an appointment, others have a service on their website for reservation. Making an appointment in advance can save you so much time and hassle, giving you a sense of relief that you’ll most definitely get your haircut that day. Some barbershops and salons can get quite a significant number of customers in a day — if you don’t have a reservation, they might request that you visit a different day as they’re fully booked without reservation. 

Conclusion

It takes a bit of extra research and time when it comes to finding the perfect barbershop or salon in Japan, but it’s definitely something you shouldn’t just wing it if you’re extremely particular with your hair care. But once you find the right barber or hairstylist that can deliver all that you ask of them, you’ll be set up with a regular barber or hairstylist at your ideal barbershop or salon in Japan in absolutely no time!

The Art of Japanese Fusion Cuisine

Introduction

If you think that Japanese cuisine is only limited to traditional ramen and sushi, you’re absolutely mistaken! Japan is such an innovative country with multiple outside influences that there’s no way that its traditional cuisine won’t be fused with another region’s cuisine. In fact, the Japanese have adopted various foreign dishes and turned them into their own kind of unique cuisine, collectively known as Japanese fusion cuisine.

This special genre of Japanese cuisine is undoubtedly a work of art. You can never get such dishes anywhere else in the world — only in Japan! And to top it off, the Japanese are mad for this local fusion cuisine! Let’s look into how the Japanese fusion cuisine came about and explore the various types that exist to this very day.

What is Japanese Fusion Cuisine?

What exactly is Japanese fusion cuisine? As its name suggests, it’s basically a type of cuisine that has both Japanese cuisine elements as well as other foreign cuisine elements. Hence the word “fusion” as both regions are fused together in a dish.

Most of the type, Japanese fusion cuisine combines the type of dishes often found in Western countries like steak, hamburger and omelettes with only Japanese ingredients. This technique not only adds a Japanese twist on the original dish but it also alters the flavours to suit the Japanese people’s taste palates.

The Japanese put a tremendous amount of changes into these Western dishes that they have basically modified them completely! What they regard now as Western food is so significantly different from genuine Western food. Hence, it became their very own type of cuisine, the Japanese fusion cuisine!

The birth of yoshoku

Yoshoku (洋食) is a term that refers to the Western-style dishes. It originated during the Meiji Restoration when there was a huge demand for modernisation in Japan. The country had the mentality that they needed Western ideas to further advance in society, so they adopted various Western dishes. However, it was difficult to get foreign ingredients back then, so the people had to make do with what they can, and that was using local ingredients.

A lot of the time, yoshoku is often written in katakana as it features Western dishes. Even though they may look slightly familiar, the flavour is undoubtedly different. Take omurice (オムライス) for example. Just from a glance, the omurice looks like an ordinary omelette with sauce topped on top, but in actuality it has stir-fried rice in the middle!

Wafu, the Japanese style

While yoshoku refers to the Western-influenced dishes, wafu (和風) just generally means “Japanese-style”. The Japanese have been inventive ever since the exposure to the western culture. The higher level to the yoshoku is basically the wafu, where dishes inspired by yoshoku are created with even more Japanese elements — be it traditional cooking techniques to even more emphasis on local ingredients.

Common Types of Japanese Fusion Cuisine

There’s not only one foreign cuisine that influenced the Japanese fusion cuisine. In the present day, almost every other type of cuisine is being experimented with by the Japanese! However, there are a handful of foreign cuisines that have significantly influenced the Japanese fusion cuisine scene. Let’s take a look at the various common types of fusion cuisines in Japan!

Japanese-French 

The Japanese have a long, intimate relationship with the French when it comes to their culinary affair. Hundreds, if not thousands, of well-known chefs in Japan today have at least once in their careers travelled to France to work under a skilled French chef. This has been going on since the Meiji and Taisho eras in the 1960s. These Japanese chefs bring back the unique flavours and traditional culinary techniques of the French cuisine and implement them into their own cuisine that’s ultimately a Japanese-French fusion cuisine.

Some notable Japanese-French fusion dishes here in Japan include the croquette — which is a ball covered in breadcrumbs and filled with vegetables, fish or meat — and the foie gras — a staple dish of the French made from the liver of a goose or duck. Of course, they’re all twerked to suit the taste palates of the Japanese here by using locally sourced ingredients and adjustments to flavours.

Japanese-Italian 

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gonmi/8576139131/

You’ll see pastas and pizzas everywhere in Japan, but they’re not the kind you get in Italy. The ones here are Japanese-Italian fusion, which means how they’re made and what they’re made of are customised for the Japanese people. Italian food is extremely popular in Japan, so much that ingredients important from Italy directly are easy to find now. But the Japanese are extremely inventive — they created Italian-inspired dishes like the “naporitan” (ナポリタン) and doria, which is more like a French gratin than it is an Italian dish. The naporitan is the Japanese take on the spaghetti bolognese, while the doria is a stir-fried dish consisting of rice, ketchup and cooked meat or seafood, topped with layers of cheese and white sauce. 

Japanese-Mexican 

Even though Mexican cuisine came much later to Japan in the 1980s, it still has a strong influence in the Japanese fusion cuisine now. Taco rice — a Japanese-style Mexican dish that started in Okinawa to cater to the U.S. military — boomed significantly and that’s when the Japanese showed interest in the Mexican dishes like tacos and burritos. It’s apparent that the flavours of Mexican cuisine is far different from the flavours of Japanese cuisine. So don’t expect Mexican restaurants in Japan to cater to your spicy taste buds — they’re pretty much wafu-style.

Japanese-Chinese 

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/43572617@N05/4041240899/

The biggest influence in the Japanese fusion cuisine is none other than the Chinese cuisine. The Chinese played a huge role in Japan’s history, so naturally, they had quite an influence in the Japanese food scene. Ever since the 1600s, which was when the first Chinese scholar introduced their local cuisine to Japan. The most famous Japanese-Chinese fusion dish that we now know and love is none other than the ramen (ラーメン). It actually originated from China, but over the years, the Japanese combined their own unique style of cooking as well as ingredients to create their very own version of ramen.

Gyoza (餃子) is also a Chinese dish that the Japanese reinvented with their own take. In Japan, you can get all sorts of Japanese-Chinese gyoza, from boiled to deep-fried.

Japanese-Indian 

The all-famous Japanese curry didn’t just come out of thin air. It is in fact inspired by the Indian curry, introduced in the late 1800s. The Indian curry is traditionally spicy and hot, but the Japanese taste is nowhere near that. It is actually quite the opposite. The Japanese prefer sweet, and even their type of spicy is not the same as the Indian cuisine. Hence, they created their own unique take on the Indian cuisine, which comes in all forms in the present day. From sweet curry to omelette curry, nothing is quite like the Japanese-Indian fusion cuisine.

Conclusion

When you find yourself in Japan, don’t only try out the local traditional Japanese cuisine. You should also have a taste of their unique Japanese fusion cuisine which you cannot find anywhere else in the world! It’s like having two different regions in one dish — how spectacular is that?

The Uniqueness of Japanese Etiquette

Introduction

It’s not surprising that a country like Japan would have its own set of etiquette to follow — its rich history calls for it. Many of us wouldn’t even know of these unspoken rules until they’ve experienced it for themselves. But why wait for that to happen when you can be educated on it beforehand?

Even though the Japanese people don’t expect foreigners to know every single one of the Japanese etiquette, it’s good to know the basics. Impress your Japanese friends or prepare for your next Japan trip with these top 15 essential Japanese etiquette tips!

What is Japanese Etiquette?

Before anything else, what is Japanese etiquette exactly? In short, it is basically a set of expected behaviours of people in Japan. Just like any other culture, the etiquette can vary depending on the relationship you have with the other person. 

The Japanese etiquette is believed to have existed since the beginning of the country, or even way before Japan became Japan. Back then, Japan consisted of multiple groups of people that vary in terms of customs. Because of that, some regions in Japan may not have certain etiquette another part might have. 

It’s also believed that the Japanese etiquette might have changed and evolved over the course of history. What the Japanese used to practice might not be an active practice now. Or what the Japanese practice now might not have existed back then. Regardless, there are still a few Japanese etiquettes that apply throughout this island nation with a long-standing history behind them. 

Categories of Essential Japanese Etiquette 

If we had to count all the Japanese etiquettes that exist, we’d eventually lose count because there’s too many! Hence, this article will highlight some of the more important ones that are practiced daily. These essential Japanese etiquettes are great to know so as to not unintentionally offend the Japanese people (even though they probably won’t take any offense — they’re too polite and nice for that).

At Home & Other Accommodations

Regardless if it’s at another person’s home or just a local Japanese accommodation like a ryokan, there are some Japanese etiquette to take note of.

1. Shoes off

This Japanese etiquette is one of the most important ones, but it can easily slip one’s mind as well. Especially when back in your home country, taking off shoes before entering the home is not a thing. In Japanese homes and accommodations, people are expected to take off their shoes at the entrance. 

Bonus tip: sometimes in bathrooms, there will be bathroom slippers offered. In this case, leave your house slippers (if you have them on) outside the bathroom and switch for the bathroom slippers when you enter. Don’t forget to switch back after you’re done — it’s extremely common for foreigners to wear the bathroom slippers all the way back to the dining table. Don’t worry, no one will fault you for that. It’s an extremely common mistake!

2. Gift away

When visiting another one’s home or place, the Japanese regard gifts as of high importance. It’s just a sign of appreciation and thankfulness for the other person’s invite. The gift should generally be equal or higher priced than the one you received prior (if you did). Do take note not to splurge too much on a gift — the other person would have to fork out just as much or more for your return gift.

3. Sitting 

The Japanese have a “proper” way of seating known as the seiza (正座). This traditional way of seating is in a sort of kneeling position with your bottom resting on the heels of your feet. Even till this day, the Japanese naturally take on the seiza sitting position when seating on the floor, especially tatami mats. You’re not expected to adopt the traditional way of seating, but it’ll definitely impress a few people if you do.

Daily Interactions

Not every culture has the same unspoken rules when it comes to daily interactions. Regardless of whether it’s among friends or people who you aren’t so close, there are certain etiquettes to follow in Japanese culture.

4. Personal space

Generally, the Japanese people are less of a physical contact bunch of people. They are more for their personal space. Any displays of affection including hugs and kisses and even handshakes are not common in Japanese culture. It might be a bit unusual for some other cultures, but the Japanese would rather politely bow or give a friendly wave as greeting.

5. Timing

Whether it is meeting a friend or an appointment with a client, never be late in Japan. In fact, being early is actually being on time. So if you’re on time, you’re considered late! While the Japanese are too polite to confront you about your tardiness, it’s considered rude to be even the slightest late. Try to be at least five minutes earlier. There’s basically no excuse you can give to explain your lateness — trains and buses in Japan are always accurately on time.

Dining

In every culture, there’s always a set of table manners. In Japan, it’s no different — except that their rules are exclusive to the Japanese culture. Some are extremely specific and miniature, but there is a handful that should be kept in mind whenever you’re dining out in Japan.

6. Chopstick manners

The ohashi (お箸) etiquette is one rule you should try your best not to break. The Japanese regard the chopsticks quite highly, so fooling around with them is frowned upon. For example, you should never use chopsticks to point directly at another person or wave them around. Sticking them in a bowl of rice and passing food from chopsticks to chopsticks are reminiscences of a funeral rite, so avoid that as much as possible.  

7. Counting the change is impolite

In some countries, it might only be natural and automatic to count the change you get in return at convenience stores, restaurants and other cashiers. Try not to do that in Japan. There’s a sense of trust among people in Japan, and the cashier people would never shortchange you on purpose. It’s considered impolite to count your change in front of them as it’s a sign of distrust.

Public Manners

It might be redundant to mention, but there’s always a set of etiquette to follow when in public. On top of the universal set of etiquette rules, Japan has a few unique to them. Some of the Japanese might expect these etiquettes to be followed as they’re basically a sign of respect to the people of the public.

8. Lowered voice

One of the most significant unspoken rules in all of Japan is lowered voices on public transports. Whether it is a bus or train, the Japanese people expect hushed voices when speaking to one another. Raised volumes and speaking on the phone in any volume is frowned upon. It is quite and unusual Japanese etiquette — imagine a packed train in Tokyo, the busiest city in Japan, being extremely silent that you could hear a pin drop.

9. No to eating or drinking on the streets

In Japan, it’s impolite to eat or drink on the streets. This raises the question, what if you’re hungry or thirsty? Japan is scattered with convenience stores and vending machines, and the people of Japan expect people to eat or drink there and then. Having the bins next to these places are convenient for that. The streets are considered dirty, so the Japanese would avoid eating on the streets because of then. It’s also best to avoid eating on trains even though it’s not prohibited so as to respect the people commuting with you.

10. Hold on to your rubbish

This is probably the first few things when you find yourself in Japan, and that is the lack of bins in the country. Yet, despite that, the country is one of the cleanest countries in the world! The Japanese hold on to their rubbish until they reach home or if they see a general waste bin somewhere. The bins next to vending machines are dedicated to vending machine users only, hence you should not bin it there if you see it.

11. Stick to your side of the road

Japan is known for its order and abiding citizens. That can be proven by the way the Japanese walk on the streets in an orderly fashion. There’s always a mutual side as to where the people should walk so as to not cross paths and walk into each other. Even on pavements, escalators and subway platforms, there are signs to indicate which side to stick to. This Japanese etiquette is extremely convenient during rush hours and similar situations so you wouldn’t be in the way of others rushing to work, and vice versa.

12. Smoking

Some countries might allow smoking anywhere, but it’s actually illegal to walk and smoke in certain areas in Japan. There are designated areas for smoking so that the smoke from the cigarette won’t bother others around them. Cigarette buds can also be hazardous as it can burn someone accidentally, especially in a crowded area. Hence, this Japanese etiquette is more to show consideration for others.

Business

Japanese business etiquette is one of the more important ones in Japanese culture. It’s so crucial with quite a number of unspoken rules that it deserves a whole write-up for itself. However, there are three main ones that one should be aware of on the off chance that you came across a business opportunity during your time in Japan.

13. Business cards

Business cards are the very basis of any business transaction in Japan. They’re more of an extension of oneself, hence business cards are expected to be treated with respect. Receive and give business cards with both hands. Always read the business card that’s given to you intently — it shows that you appreciate the person.

14. Calling names

Name-calling in Japan is quite important. The Japanese always called each other by their family name rather than their first name, especially in a business context. Calling by the first name indicates familiarity with the person while calling by the last name is a form of respect. There are also various honorific titles to attach to the name. Most of the time, “san” (さん) and “sama” () are used for people of higher rank or status.

The Golden Rule of Japanese Etiquette

If there are too many unspoken rules in the Japanese culture, just remember this one golden rule of the Japanese etiquette: be respectful. The Japanese are extremely understanding especially when it comes to foreigners who aren’t aware of their local customs. All of the Japanese etiquettes are based on the concept of respect, so if you remember to practice that, you’re all set!

Conclusion

The Japanese etiquette is just as beautiful as the country. Without these traditional customs and unspoken rules on behaviour, Japan wouldn’t be what it is today — inspiring. Before your next trip to Japan, or if you’re already living in this beautiful country, take note of these essential Japanese etiquette tips to impress the locals you’ll encounter!

Japanese Food Culture

Introduction

There is something so unique about Japanese food culture. Every process is like a work of art in itself — from preparation and cooking to the actual eating. There are various things that come into play when dining at an eatery in Japan. And it’s never the same for all types of restaurants. Depending on what they serve, there’s a set of etiquette attached to it.
 
That just goes to show how significant the Japanese food culture is in Japan. Why is that? Here’s everything you need to know about this extravagantly rich culture of Japanese food!

The Art of “Washoku” in Japanese Food Culture

There’s a special term to describe the collective of all Japanese food, and that’s called “washoku” (和食). The characters in Japanese translate to “Food of Japan” — isn’t that beautiful? The art of washoku is blending every ingredient seamlessly with one another to create a magnificent cuisine each time. There’s a sense of harmony between every dish served together. And every course or meal is prepared with the idea of this beautiful tradition in mind. Each bite and sip is another insight to the Japanese way of life.
 
This term came about to differentiate the Japanese cuisine from the other foreign ones that were introduced to Japan. They are known as “yoshoku” (洋食), which are Japanese ingredients prepared using Western and other Asian culinary techniques.
 
Washoku is so influential and important to the Japanese culture that it’s recognised as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.
 

History of Japanese Food Culture

It’s no secret that Japan is rich in culture. That also includes Japanese food culture. The culinary techniques of the Japanese food culture started centuries ago. They have been preserved over the years through generations and generations. To this day, the same culinary techniques are actively used and practiced. 
 
Such techniques came about from the practice of religion in Japan and access to supplies. When Buddhism was first introduced to Japan in the Kofun period, any consumption of meat and fish was prohibited. Spices like pepper and garlic were also sparse in the country, hence the Japanese used it minimally in their cuisine.
 
Over time, the types of regulated meat increased. Fish were the first type to get the green light to be consumed due to Japan being an island nation. It was then prepared in various forms, from raw to grilled. The Japanese became experimental with their servings of fish in their dishes. Anyone who could afford fish would have them in their meals to make up for the lack of animal protein.
 
It wasn’t until the Meiji Restoration that the people of Japan were allowed to consume meat when the emperor of the time embraced the cuisines of Western countries. That included a variety of meat dishes. 

Characteristics in Japanese Food Culture

While rich in tradition, Japanese food culture can also be quite flexible. Traditional techniques can be evolved ever so slightly to suit the modern-day taste palates. However, there are certain factors that still come into play to fit the concept of washoku.

Focus on Seasonality

The Japanese put an emphasis on “shun” (旬), the seasonality of food. The dishes prepared at a certain time of the year is based on the season it’s in. The flavours introduced fits perfectly for the weather at the point of time.
 
In Shintoism, the current native religion of Japan, it’s important to have respect for nature. The people of Japan take advantage of what is in season, like bamboo shoots in spring and chestnuts in autumn. Everything from “umi no sachi” (海の幸, referring to the fruits of the sea) to “yama no sachi” (山の幸, referring to the fruits of the mountains) is prioritised in to be included in the menu.
 

Traditional Ingredients

On top of the seasonal ingredients, other traditional ingredients are also important factors in Japanese food culture. Fish, tofu and seaweed are seen as traditional ingredients. Meat consumption is as well, but there isn’t a specific type. It is more of a general guideline. 
 
Another traditional ingredient is oil. But more of lack of. Other than for tempura (天ぷら), oil is being used only lightly in Japanese food culture.

Presentation

In Japanese food culture, how the meal is being served is as important as how it tastes. The people of Japan view the presentation as high importance in any meal they serve and also being served. Everything from bowls to cutlery is carefully placed. Not to mention the actual dish itself. Each ingredient decorates the plate harmoniously, just like their flavours.
 

Types of Food  

There are so many different types of food in the Japanese food culture, but they all can be categorised into four main categories: rice, noodles, meat and seafood, and soy products. These categories are extremely significant in Japanese food culture. Let’s take a look at each one!

Rice

Rice is a staple food in Japan. The cultivation of rice is known to be the main pushing factor to the evolution of Japanese culture, especially the food culture. Rice in Japan has several varieties including Koshihikari (越光)
 
Some Japanese foods that use rice are onigiri (オニギリ), which are rice balls; mochi (餅), which are rice cakes; and sake (酒), which is a type of rice wine.
 
Did you know that there are a few ways to say rice in Japanese? Meshi” (飯) refers to cooked rice while “kome” (米) refers to uncooked rice.

Noodles

Homemade Japanese Pork Tonkotsu Ramen with Mushrooms and Eggs

In Japanese food culture, there are three types of noodles: udon (うどん), soba (そば) and ramen (ラーメン).
 
Udon noodles are made from wheat flour. They are served either hot or cold, depending on the season. Toppings like raw egg and tofu can be added to an udon dish.
 
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat. They’re thinner in size and darker in colour than udon noodles. They can also be served cold or hot with similar toppings as udon.
 
Ramen noodles are thin egg noodles. They’re generally served hot with a choice of either soy sauce broth or miso broth. Toppings are usually slices of pork with bean sprouts. There are different variations of ramen throughout the country and some prefectures have a specialty that can’t be found anywhere else. For example, you can only get corn-butter ramen in Sapporo.

Meat & Seafood

Meat and seafood are also essential foods in Japanese food culture. The consumption of fish is especially high in Japan due to the country being an island nation. Fish and also other types of seafood are eaten in a variety of forms. Everything from raw to grilled — the Japanese will eat them! Sashimi (刺身) and sushi (寿司) are the main suspects of seafood dishes!
 
Despite the ban on meat in the earlier years of Japan, the Japanese still consume quite a lot of it today. They have become a part of the Japanese diet, with yakitori (焼き鳥), gyudon (牛丼) and yakiniku (焼肉) as standard meat dishes nowadays.

Soy Products

Last but definitely not least on the list of food categories in Japanese food culture is the soy products. The Japanese use soy in a number of their essential dishes in their cuisine. Mix soybean with rice and you’ll get the basic paste of many Japanese dishes, miso (みそ). Other soy products that are commonly found in Japanese food culture are natto (納豆), which is fermented soybeans, as well as tofu (豆腐), which is soybean curd.

Japanese Food Culture Etiquette 

Now that we have the basics of Japanese food and its different types solid in our heads, it’s time to learn the ins and outs of the Japanese food culture. There is a certain etiquette to follow when dining in Japan. Even though certain types of restaurants have other or more rules, these are the basics that apply to all:

Do Not Tip

Some countries practice tipping. In Japan, they don’t. In fact, it’s considered rude to tip the staff. Tipping can lead to the chefs feeling degraded as the staff of Japanese restaurants are considered to be highly paid already. Compliment with words rather than coins.

Table Manners

The Japanese are particular about table manners. Chopsticks are somewhat sacred in Japan, so do not place them in inappropriate places. For example, sticking it straight up in a bowl of rice and laying them across the bowl of noodles are definitely not recommended.

Don’t Be Messy

It should be an unspoken rule, but when dining out or at someone else’s place, try to leave a tidy meal area. Don’t put your napkins on the plate — instead, fold them and place them at the side.

Try to Finish Your Food

It might be hard for some of us, but do try to finish your food. In Japanese food culture, it’s considered impolite to leave unfinished dishes after a meal.

Useful Phrases To Know 

Whether you are dining out or having a meal at someone’s house, there are two common phrases that are extremely useful to know:
 
Itadakimasu!” (頂きます!) — This is an extremely useful phrase that has a few translations into English. It is said before beginning to eat. While it literally translates to “I humbly take”, it doesn’t quite explain the actual meaning. It’s basically a salutation to begin eating, like “let’s eat!”
 
“Gochisousama deshita!” (ごちそうさまでした!) — This phrase is used at the end of the meal and translates to “it has been a feast.” This is a respectful acknowledgment to the host or chef for their hard work in preparing the meal.

Conclusion

I bet by the end of this article you’re an expert at Japanese food culture. Everything from the rules of dining and the right things to say to the different cuisine types, you’ve got it covered! So put on your bib and start digging into all these delicious Japanese foods!

The Cultural Influence in Modern Tokyo Fashion

Introduction

Japan is one of those countries that is abundantly rich in culture. With their centuries of history, it’s no wonder. It’s only natural that it influenced the ways the Japanese dress back in those days. What if we were to tell you that the Japanese culture is still influencing modern fashion in Japan? Would you believe us?
 
Tokyo is not only the capital city of Japan but also the hot spot for creativity to run wild. This is especially true in the expressive language of fashion. We’ve all heard about the crazy and wild outfits that the fashion neighbourhood, Harajuku, churns out. Little did we know that there are still culture infusions in these modern-day Tokyo fashion. It’s not limited to just that, though. The everyday casual wear of the local Japanese, too, have a bit of culture in them.
 
If you look closely, you’ll see. But to make things easier, we’ve broken it down for you!

History of Traditional Japanese Clothing

Before we get to how culture is seen in modern Tokyo fashion, we’ll briefly look at the history of traditional Japanese clothing.
 
The Japanese did not begin wearing what we know now as traditional wear. In fact, back then, it wasn’t even known as that. The Japanese used to wear skins of animals they hunted back in ancient times. They turned them into simple pieces of clothing.
 
After Japan opened up to other countries, the Japanese took on fabric to make their clothes. It was only during the Middle Ages that they made a unique fashion of their wear. It’s believed that it was this time the “kimono” (着物) we know and love was born. Kimono is literally translated to “thing to wear” because back then it was literally a thing to wear.
 
Over time, the layering of the kimono became popular, especially for the nobles and royalty. Colours came into play. They could represent anything from seasons to the political class. The middle class were often seen in linen-made kimonos.
 
The everyday wear of the Japanese went from the kimono to other simplified forms of it like the “yukata” (浴衣). Now, what was known back then as everyday wear are now formal wear used only during special occasions like weddings.

Common Types of Traditional Japanese Clothing

There’s a term to call the traditional Japanese clothing, and that’s “wafuku” (和服). It literally translates to Japanese clothes. This is to differentiate them from “yofuku” (洋服), which refers to Western clothes. 
 
There are many different kinds of wafuku clothing. There’s so many that the list can go on and on. Instead of listing every nitty-gritty of them down, we’ve highlighted the main ones that are more common than the rest.

Kimono

As mentioned before, kimono was just “a thing to wear” back in the days. Now, it’s highly regarded and reserved for special and formal occasions including weddings and Coming of Age Day. In the past, the colours represented the political class of the wearer. In the present day, it’s based on one’s age as well as marital status.
 
The traditional wear of the kimono for men is much more simpler than the women. But the general form is still the same. It’s usually made from silk fabrics that are hand-sewn together. The women’s kimono can have up to 12 layers of clothing!

Yukata

The yukata is also known as a summer version of the kimono. They’re made of lightweight fabrics like cotton as it’s much more breathable. Women’s yukata are often more brightly coloured while the men’s yukata are often more neutral and muted. Men’s ones are even shorter in length.
 
In those days, the yukata is usually worn in public baths where the wearer would use it to cover the body as well as dry themselves off. While that’s still being practiced today, the yukata can also be seen on some Japanese people during summer festivals, known as “natsu matsuri” (夏祭り).
 
Some onsens (温泉) and ryokans (旅館) also provide their guests with yukata. This is a great way to experience wearing traditional Japanese clothing!

Hakama

This piece of traditional clothing is often seen but not really recognised. The hakama (袴) was traditionally used by samurais as part of their uniform. The pleated skirt form of the hakama protects the legs of the samurai when riding their horses.
 
In the present day, the hakama is used during Japanese sports like kendo (剣道), which is a traditional Japanese martial arts. They’re also worn during university graduation ceremonies and by “miko” (巫女), which are shrine maidens.

Haori

 

You may have seen this piece of traditional clothing sold as souvenirs at tourist attraction sites. It’s even become a trendy fashion piece! The haori (羽織) is a lightweight coat that is jacket-length. They’re usually worn over the kimono. The haori for men, like the kimono, is simpler in design and colour as compared to the haori for women. 

Modern-Day Japanese Clothing

Fast forward a few centuries and we have modern-day Japan. What the Japanese wear now casually is a drastic jump from the traditional Japanese wear back then. Other than the rare occasions, you won’t see the Japanese casually wearing the kimono out for a stroll.
 
It’s no question that there’s been a major influence by the Western countries in Japan. Trousers were rarely seen in the past but now, regardless of gender, the Japanese take on different variations of trousers. Prints and patterns from other regions of the world can be seen on the pieces of clothing sold in Japan.
 
Generally, the modern-day Japanese clothing has been simplified.

The Famous “Harajuku Fashion”

On to the hot topic for Tokyo fashion, and that is the neighbourhood that pulls in the creative minds. Harajuku has been known for decades now to be the iconic neighbourhood for fashion in Tokyo. Every trend started from here. Harajuku fashion is just a big umbrella term — there are multiple subcultures in it.
 
But let’s not get into every single one of them. Because just like traditional Japanese clothing, the list will go on and on. What’s similar about all of them is that the looks are out of this world! You can only see them in Japan — Harajuku in Tokyo, specifically. And the best part of it all is that no one judges you on your expressive outfits. That’s what this neighbourhood is all about.

Cultural Influence in Tokyo Fashion

Regardless if it’s crazy outfits or if it’s everyday wear, modern Tokyo fashion has one thing in common. And that is all of them have cultural influences one way or another. How, you ask? It’s actually obvious if you know what to look for.
 
Compare the styles of traditional Japanese clothing to what the Japanese wear today. There are a few key similarities between them. 

Kimono-style aesthetics

Kimono has such a huge impact in the world that it’s even used in modern fashion today. This traditional wear of Japanese culture features a distinct collar as well as the wrap around the waist. That has influenced many modern clothing designs you see on the streets. Not only that, but the prints have also influenced modern fashion as well! 
 
There are countless ways the kimono has influenced today’s fashion. The pairing of the wrap with casual clothes seems to be the most popular option.

Layering

Layering is such an iconic trait of the Japanese traditional fashion. It’s seen in the kimono and various other traditional wear. Today, the Japanese also incorporate the form of layering into their daily wear. Even during hot summer days, you’ll see the Japanese layering their outfits. It’s just the cultural influence taking effect!

Baggy Silhouettes

The Japanese culture is very much all about modesty, from their actions and words to clothing. As seen in the traditional Japanese clothing, it’s always fully covering the wearer. In modern Tokyo fashion, the conservative style still continues. Many Japanese are still donning baggy or non-fitting clothing to achieve the baggy silhouette. This is mainly due to the cultural influence of modesty.

Conclusion

Who would’ve thought that the modern fashion of Tokyo has cultural influence from back in the day? That just shows how strong the Japanese culture is. It’s able to be preserved from the ancient times and still visibly seen on the streets to this very day! If you find yourself in Tokyo one day, why not try and see if you can spot some of these cultural influences in modern fashion for yourself?

The Japanese Art of Gift-Giving

Introduction

Let’s admit it, who doesn’t like getting gifts? We all love getting a personalised present from someone. Some of us enjoy hunting for the perfect present for another. Giving and receiving gifts in Japan are whole new, revolutionary levels that you can’t even imagine!
 
It’s no secret that the Japanese culture is unique in so many ways, and this is one of them. Their polite and respectful mannerisms are deeply inbuilt in various aspects of their lives. That’s no different for their gift-giving culture. For the Japanese, it is more than giving someone a souvenir or presents. It’s an act of appreciation, a show of respect and a presentation of gratitude.
 

The Japanese Art of Gift-Giving

Birthday present. Father giving gift to daughter, closeup

East Asia has a long and important history of gift-giving. Japan is one of them. The Japanese do not take gift-giving lightly, as many other traditions in their culture. It’s a serious act that strengthens relationships and maintains ties with one another. It can also be a way to show fondness for the other.
 
There’s no limits to gift-giving in Japanese culture. It can be casual or business, personal or political. 
 
One thing that is unique to the Japanese is the numbers. There’s a superstition that giving it in pairs or some even numbers brings about good luck. Giving it in a set of fours or nine is seen as unlucky. It’s best to avoid those. 
 
During weddings, money can be given as a wedding gift. When it comes to the number, though, offering an odd number is best. If you give an even number, the Japanese see it as an easy split of amount between the couple. This brings about the superstition of the easy split of the pair. 
 
The Japanese art of gift-giving is an elaborate and limitless one. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t know all the rules and superstitions that come with it. The Japanese will definitely understand. That mannerism is part of their culture as well!
 

Types of Japanese Gifts

Utsunomiya, Japan – April 4, 2019: Famous Tochigi prefecture citrus lemon filled mochi flavored with strawberry flavor in souvenir gift boxes in store retail display

On top of their detailed specifics to the art of gift-giving, there are also various types of Japanese gifts. These different types are given (and received) during different occasions and people. Here’s a summarized list so you’ll know the difference between them.
 

Omiyage

The omiyage (おみやげ) is generally known as souvenirs brought home from a trip. They often consist of local snacks or produce, or even local alcoholic beverages from the place they went. Some might even bring back a local handicraft that represents the place.
 
This act of bringing back a piece of their travels dates back to the Edo period. During that time, there were only a few lucky ones that had the luxury to go on journeys and bring back souvenirs for the ones who weren’t able to go.
 
One key point to note is that omiyage refers to the gifts for others and not the ones you buy for yourself.
 
A sub-category of omiyage is the meibutsu (名物) which refers to prized delicacies from a specific city. Each area has their own specialty, like how takoyaki (fried balls with octopus cuts in the middle) is unique to Osaka.
 

Temiyage

Temiyage (手みやげ) refers to the gifts given to friends, family and host family when one visit their home. While it is not expected of people to give them, it is a nation-wide practice that’s appreciated. 
 
The gift shouldn’t be too cheap or too expensive. Recommended products that are great as temiyage gifts include food, drinks and any unique products from your home country or city
 

Okaeshi

The tradition of okaeshi (お返し), which translates to returning something, is a simple, small gift as a way of saying thanks. Okaeshi is usually given at parties and weddings.
 

Who Do You Give the Gifts?

In short, you can give gifts to just about anyone.
 
Generally, these gifts are often given to those who you might feel indebted to or to show appreciation to. It can be your family members, the host family that took care of you, colleagues or even your boss. 
 
When Do You Give the Gifts?
 
The Japanese give gifts all the time. If they go on a trip, they’ll come back with omiyage to give out. If they’ve been invited to another person’s home or establishment, they’ll get a temiyage ready for that. 
 
There are also specific times of the year where the Japanese will go into the full gift-giving mode. Here are some of them listed!
 

Ochugen & Oseibo

The two special seasons for gift-giving is the ochugen (御中元) and oseibo (御制帽)
 
Ochugen is set in the summer and lasts from the first of July to the fifteenth. People in Japan make their rounds to give gifts to people that they appreciate and are close to them. This is a tradition that started during Obon (お盆), a Japanese Buddhist custom to honour the ancestor’s spirits
 
Gifts can be just about anything. These can include food, alcohol, housewares and other related products that the receiver might appreciate
 
The winter gift-giving season is the oseibo. 
 

Birthday & Christmas

While birthdays and Christmas aren’t traditional Japanese traditions, the people of Japan have adopted the western ways and use these occasions as reasons to give gifts as well. It’s not necessary and definitely not expected, but it’s always nice to have them on these special occasions, isn’t it?
 

Japanese Gift-Giving Etiquette

The Japanese are well known for their proper etiquette, so it’s no surprise that the Japanese art of gift-giving has its own set of etiquette. Here are some to take note of:
 
  • Always give and receive gifts with both hands as a sign of respect.
 
  • It’s Japanese tradition to refuse gifts twice before accepting it. If you’re giving them, expect up to two refusals. If you’re receiving them, modestly refuse it before finally accepting.
 
  • Gifts are not opened in public as it’s considered rude to the giver.
 
  • If the gift is for an individual, make sure there isn’t anyone else around before giving it to them as an act of courtesy to the others.
 
  • Gifts are often given at the end of any meeting or encounter. Giving it at the start is a sign of rushing the meeting.
 
  • The price of the gift should be kept in mind. It shouldn’t be too expensive but not too cheap either.
 
  • There’s a strict hierarchy in Japanese society. In other words, what you give your colleagues shouldn’t be the same as what you give your boss.
 

Gift-Giving Tips

Now that we got the nitty-gritty details out of the way, here are just a few fun tips that are nice to know. It might even add on to your gift-giving experience!
 

Presentation

The way a gift is presented is just as important as what’s in it. This includes the bows, paper and ribbon used to wrap the gift.
 
The Japanese often present their gifts in cloth that are often reusable. This cloth is known as the furoshiki (風呂敷), which refers to the bath spread as it was originally used to wrap a bather’s clothes in ancient times. Over time, it has been used to conceal gifts in Japan.
 

Colour

Keep in mind the colour you use for the gift wrapping! Some Japanese might be sensitive to that. But, as mentioned before, they’ll definitely understand if you don’t particularly know.
 
Go for pastels as they’re the safest bet and the best option. Bright colours are often associated with being too flashy and showy, and red is linked to funerals or sexuality.
 

Conclusion

There’s so much thought put into gift-giving in Japanese culture that it might even make the rest of us look bad. But that’s just the unique art of it all. It’s praiseworthy how serious the people of Japan take gift-giving that it’s ingrained in the Japanese culture.
 
With all that you know about the Japanese art of gift-giving, will you take it up as part of your own gift-giving ways?