Traditions and customs of Japan

What traditions and customs are there in Japan?

We investigate what are the customs and traditions of Japan.

Food in daily life

An extremely varied diet uses culinary elements from around the world, including the cuisines of Korea, China, South and Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America. However, notions of “traditional” Japanese cuisine are an important element of cultural identity.

The characteristics that define it are the ingredients, the styles of preparation and the aesthetics. White rice is a staple of virtually every meal; other typical ingredients include soy and shellfish products that are served grilled or raw. Vegetables and seafood are often pickled.

The kitchen is not based on intense flavors. Meals ideally contrast flavors and textures between different dishes and include many small plates rather than one main course. The visual presentation of a meal is important.

During the pre-modern period, meat was prohibited under the tenets of Buddhism. Vegetarian cuisine prepared in Zen monasteries relied heavily on soy products, including miso soup and tofu.

Since the late 19th century, tastes have been influenced by foreign cuisines, many of which have been adapted and absorbed into the national diet. Since World War II, the consumption of dairy products, beef, bread, and other Western foods has increased dramatically.

Eating habits have been reshaped by changes in domestic life. Families eat less together, and sophisticated kitchen appliances have transformed the home kitchen. Food manufacturers have created a large number of ready meals.


Marriage is generally based on mutual attraction between individuals; this is known as a “love match” in contrast to the traditional “arranged marriage” in which an intermediary negotiates a match in a process that may give more weight to the views of the parents than to those of the intended bride and groom.

Some vestiges of arranged marriage continue and many couples rely on matchmakers to find a partner. Background checks on a prospective spouse and her family are routine.

Weddings are almost always held in hotels or wedding halls, with a lavish banquet for several dozen guests. The ceremonies mix elements of Shintō marriage rituals and stylized adaptations of Christian weddings. Weddings are elaborate, and the bride and groom typically go through several costume changes.


Etiquette can be a full-time occupation, especially in the context of traditional artistic activities, such as the tea ceremony, where its principles are incorporated as performance elements.

Even in more prosaic circumstances, many points of etiquette are elaborately coded, including extensive vocabulary and grammar for polite conversation; specific principles for the selection, presentation and reciprocity of gifts; and rules for bowing and exchanging business cards.

Many people find the intricacies of etiquette intimidating, and books that offer advice on these situations are constant sellers. The label is based on the principles of proportional reciprocity in social hierarchies based on the determination of relative status between superior and subordinate.

These relative states may reflect an individual’s age, gender, or social role, or they may reflect the relationships between different social institutions.


Religious beliefs

Shintō is the contemporary term for a system of gods and beliefs about the relationship between people, the natural environment, and the state. Shintō teaches that Japan is solely the land of the gods. Religion has no dogma or formal scripture.

For much of Japanese history, Shintō and Buddhism have co-existed and influenced each other. Shintō is closely tied to the imperial family and a nationalist ideology.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Korea and China during the 6th century AD. It consists of two main branches, known as Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, in general, is the branch practiced in South Asia, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, and Mahayana is the branch that influenced Chinese, Korean, and Japanese civilizations.

In essence, Theravada (a Sanskrit term meaning “the least or smallest vessel”) teaches that salvation is available only to a select few, those who strive for enlightenment and practice good deeds that will enhance one’s ability to succeed. transcend the trappings of mortal existence. The Theravada tradition emphasizes monastic communities.

Mahayana (a Sanskrit term meaning “the greater (greatest) vessel”) teaches that the grace and mercy of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas (saints) lead them to intercede for the masses of the humanities, and that through devotion Anyone can expect salvation while, during his life on earth, he remains a part of the mundane world.

Sects of folk Buddhism in Japan have emphasized the accessibility of salvation and enlightenment to ordinary people. These include: esoteric Buddhism (eg, the Shingon and Tendai sects) which teach mystical practices as a means of apprehending the sacred; the so-called “pure land sects” that teach that prayer and devotion to Buddhist saints offer a means to salvation, through divine intercession; and Zen, which teaches that enlightenment can be obtained through meditation in which one attains intuitive spiritual insight or catharsis through intense, introspective contemplation, denying the intellect (and the attachments, desires, and obsessions that thought embodies). human) precisely through the effort to think through life’s unsolvable puzzles.

The only major branch of Japanese Buddhism that does not have close connections with Chinese Buddhist traditions are the various sects of the Nichiren tradition that developed an intensely nationalistic ideology and a militant orientation to proselytizing that is not characteristic of other Japanese Buddhist sects.

Confucianism, Taoism, and shamanism have also influenced Japanese religion. Confucianism established ideal relationships between ruler and subject, husband and wife, father and son, older brother and younger brother, and friend and friend. Although the cultural legacies of Neo-Confucianism are still evident in social patterns of hierarchy and deference, Neo-Confucianism did not survive beyond the 19th century in Japan.

Taoism is a Chinese philosophical tradition that emphasizes the spiritual and mystical connection between human beings and nature. Shamanism implies a mystical and ecstatic contact through mediums between the supernatural and the human world.

Since the 16th century, religious life has been influenced by Christianity. Frances Xavier visited the country in 1549 to start the Catholic mission. At the beginning of the 17th century, there were an estimated three hundred thousand Catholics.

The Tokugawa regime expelled the Catholic clergy in 1614 and tried to eliminate the Catholic community. However, the communities of “hidden Christians” maintained their faith in isolation and secrecy.

In 1870, the ban on Christianity was lifted. Although only about 1% of Japanese today consider themselves Christians, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a number of intellectuals and politicians adopted Christianity.

American liberal Protestantism influenced progressive reformers and established many private universities; Catholic universities and hospitals are equally prominent.

After World War II, many new religious sects were founded and the existing ones expanded greatly. Today there are hundreds of religious sects, a dozen of which are prominent.

The Gakkai Sōka, a branch of Buddhism, has several million followers and in the 1960s formed a conservative national political party. Buddhist and Shintō beliefs are central to most “New Religions”, but many sects also incorporate eclectic elements from religions around the world.

Rituals and sacred places

O-Shōgatsu, the New Year’s holiday is the most important festive season of the year and is a time for ritual reaffirmations of social obligations. O-Bon in mid-August marks the season when the spirits of the departed return to their homes, and many people go to their hometowns to clean graves and celebrate the memories of the departed.

Babies are often taken to Shintō shrines thirty days after their birth, and the Shichigosan festival in November is an occasion for children to be honored at shrines.

Shintō includes beliefs about the ages of bad luck, and many shrines offer purification rituals to ward off bad fortune for people going through those dangerous years. Community celebrations generally echo the observances of the agricultural cycle.

Local festivals vary, but most focus on celebrating the patron deity of a specific town, city, or neighborhood. Today, local festivals are often expressions of community sentiment rather than religious events.

Secular celebrations

In the pre-modern calendar, a sequence of holidays occurred on numerologically auspicious days (such as January 1, March 3, and April 5); these are still popular holidays.

Other important traditional festival seasons include the O-ch gene and the O-seib, in late June and late December, respectively, when one is expected to pay one’s social obligations and exchange gifts with colleagues.

The following national holidays are observed: January 1, New Year; January 15, Adults’ Day; February 11, National Foundation Day; March 21, spring equinox; April 29, Green Day; May 3, Constitution Day; May 5, Children’s Day; July 20, Ocean Day; September 15, Day of Respect for the Third Age; September 21, autumnal equinox; October 10, Sports Day; November 3, Culture Day; November 23, Labor Thanksgiving Day; December 23, Emperor’s Day.

The week between April 29 and May 5 is known as the Golden Week due to the three successive national holidays. Many businesses close for the entire week, and vacation travel peaks during this period.

Several Western holidays, including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, have become very popular secular holidays. Valentine’s Day in particular has been adapted to fit the Japanese etiquette of reciprocal gift-giving.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

Support and appreciation for artistic activities are widespread in terms of popular participation and government encouragement. Starting at the high school level, there are public and private schools that emphasize training in the arts, and there are many colleges and art academies where students can prepare for careers as professional artists.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for most official support and patronage of the arts, including arts education in schools and museums, libraries, and other institutions. The ministry generally takes a conservative stance favoring traditional arts and crafts and “high culture”.

An interesting aspect of Japanese art policy is the designation of “national treasures” by the Ministry. National treasures include great works of art – paintings, sculptures or architectural masterpieces – but they also include art forms and artists.

Many folk crafts, for example, have been designated as “intangible cultural properties,” and sometimes specific individual artists – a famous potter, weaver, or sculptor – will be designated a “living national treasure.”

Many traditional art forms and aesthetic genre are considered distinctively Japanese: ukiyo-e woodblock prints, dramatic forms such as Nō and Kabuki, landscape painting, architectural styles, poetic genre such as haiku (the 17-syllable verse form), Zen philosophy, flower arrangements (ikebana), tea ceremony, and taiko drum music are just a few examples.


The very flow of Japanese history is defined in artistic terms, for example, in the iconic role of The Tale of Genji, often regarded as the world’s first novel, as an example of the Heian period (8th to 12th centuries) and the sophisticated crystallization of Japanese art and civilization.

Popular culture includes manga (comics) and anime (animation), both of which are extremely popular and have gained an international audience. New electronic media have diminished the popularity of books, magazines and newspapers, but the publishing industry is still huge and readership rates remain high.

Performing arts

Many of the traditional arts and crafts that attract the participation of hundreds of thousands of fans, such as the tea ceremony, traditional dance, flower arranging, and the like, are organized around a distinctive institutional pattern, known in Japanese as iemoto..

Literally, the iemoto is the highest-ranking teacher or teacher-practitioner of a particular art form, and as such runs a particular “school” of that art form. The position of iemoto, which is often hereditary, is at the official head of the hierarchies of teachers and students in a hierarchical structure based on ranks of competence and teaching credentials certified by the iemoto organization.

In this system, a student studies an art form with a credentialed teacher, and as they attain a higher level of proficiency, they reach ranks that may allow the student to single-handedly take on lower-level students. Yo

Even high-ranking professors are still considered students of high-ranking professors, right up to the iemoto at the top, and a portion of each student’s fee goes to support the professor’s professor. Iemoto, of the leading schools of flower arranging and tea ceremonies, routinely appears on lists of the richest individuals in Japan.

A large and diverse popular music industry is closely tied to television shows; popular stars (“idols”) are constantly in the public eye on broadcasts several times a day as singers, comedians, advertising hosts and spokespersons, and as the subjects of tabloid articles.

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