Stereotypes for places or cultures can never be prevented. Since each culture and country is different, they are easily associated with something that they might consider normal, but is totally alien to other countries. This is why people from different countries are easily linked with something. In the case of Japan, a lot of people consider them to be a very unique country in terms of culture and tradition. There are many things that set Japan apart from countries: their language, traditions, customs, and their way of life. Here are some of the things that comprise Japan’s culture and make it what it is.
Japanese etiquette has been one of the strictest and mysterious for foreigners. Did you know that a bow has different meanings? There are different ways to do a bow and it has different uses or implications. It can be daunting for outsiders, especially when used inappropriately. It can quickly turn a pleasant mood sour. Here are some basic Japanese etiquette practices.
In a Japanese bow, this is used to convey feelings of respect and appreciation by the person bowing. Bows are generally used together with greetings as well as apologies or thanks. Saying thank you while doing a bow will show that you are very thankful towards that person. There are three general classifications of bows.
- Casual bow – in this bow, the waist is bent at 15 degrees only, accompanied by a slight “dip” of the head. This is normally used in casual greetings or if you come across someone with a higher social status.
- Business bow – this is used in business situations. The waist is bent at 30 degrees and is used when leaving meeting rooms, reception rooms, or when greeting customers. This is the one commonly used by waiters and waitresses when you enter or leave a restaurant.
- Polite bow – this is the most polite kind of bow, and the waist is lowered 45 degrees. This is only used when showing feelings of deep apology or gratitude, so it’s used sparingly.
Clasping of Hands
Before eating, Japanese usually clasp their hands together in front of their chest. This is called as “gassho”, which originated from Buddhism. This is done before and after eating. Before eating, the meal is started by doing a “gassho” and then saying “itadakimasu” which means to receive or accept an item or gift.
You might have heard of the Japanese word “sayonara” for goodbyes. However the word “bye-bye” can also be used. This is commonly used between children and close friends. In Japan, when you wave goodbye, you should wave an open hand from left to right. If the person you are saying goodbye to is far away from you, you should lift your hand high enough to be seen. However, the business type of bow can also be used when you say goodbye.
Japanese are known to be punctual up to the minute. If you’re visiting there, you can see it on their train and subway schedules. If it will be delayed by a minute, it will cause problems for everyone. In this situation, the train office would give late slips for the affected passengers so that their employers will know that the train was really late.
This is why if you make an appointment with a Japanese friend or colleague, make sure to show up on time or earlier. They will be upset if you show up late without a good reason or they may choose to cancel the appointment entirely if you are even late for a few minutes.
Japanese Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines attract a large number of tourists. For the shrines located in the mountains, they offer very beautiful views. Temples have gardens and amazing architectural structures that are always very interesting to see. It’s very interesting to know that these are old places that Japanese people treasure so much. If you plan on visiting one, it’s important to know what to do, so that you won’t offend anyone there.
The Torii Gate
In Japanese culture, a torii gate separates our world and the holy world. Once you pass through this gate, it means that you are now entering holy ground. It may not be commonly practiced today, but a single bow in front of the torii is the proper procedure. More importantly, the center of the torii gate is where the temple’s deity passes, so you should avoid it and walk to the side to show respect.
The Water Pavilion
Also called as the “temizuya”, the water pavilion is where people “purify” themselves using water basin and ladles. Although this may look like it, this is not the place to drink water. This symbolizes an action of washing away the impurities from your heart and your physical body.
At the altar, there is a “saisenbako” or offering box, where you should silently throw in a coin for your offering to the temple’s deity. If there is a bell, you should ring it once – as a form of greeting to the deity. After this, you bow two times and then you clap your hands two times. This signifies that you are happy in meeting the deity and also showing respect to the deity. With your hands still together, you then think deeply about being thankful. After this, you bow one time before you finish. Note that in some temples or shrines, the number of bows and handclaps will differ, but it will be shown to guide you.
Food and Meal
Japanese food is also one of the most unique and distinguishable cuisine in the world. Its delicate balance of flavor and unique presentation stand out easily. There are various practices involved in eating a Japanese meal, ranging from formal etiquette to helping you enjoy your food. For instance, you are expected to finish all the dishes that your chopstick touches. Since there is no spoon, soups come in bowls which you can lift using one hand. The left hand carries the soup bowl directly to your mouth, and also the rice bowl since your right hand only uses the chopsticks. It might be a challenge, but it is considered polite if you finish every kernel of rice in your bowl.
Japanese people and even tourists are very neat persons. They are usually seen keeping things in order or picking up rubbish even if it’s not theirs. This can be attributed to their school systems, when the students had to clean the rooms, take out the trash, and sweep the steps by themselves. This might come as a shock to you, but Japanese schools don’t have any janitors and students do all the cleaning by themselves.
There are many interesting things about the Japanese lifestyle which includes their culture, traditions, and language. Getting to know about different cultures and countries can be a very interesting endeavor. There’s sure to be something that will interest you and you might even pick up some of their positive traits.