Japanese culture

Japan Misunderstood: 3 stereotypes that live on

Every time I visit my home country and talk about my life in Japan, one thing becomes clear to me: Japan remains incredibly misunderstood overseas. With this in mind, today we’ll be discussing three stereotypes of Japan: the country’s apparent disdain for those who stand out from the crowd, the notion that Japan is a strict society, and that the idea of ‘losing face’ is a quintessentially Asian concept.

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“Amazing Kyoto” shows us sides of Japan’s old capital we’ve never seen before — in two languages!

Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, is one of those cities that looks beautiful no matter what time of the year it is. But out of all the seasons, autumn is by far the most popular time to visit, and now that the leaves are beginning to change people are also starting to plan trips to catch a glimpse of Kyoto’s gorgeous fall scenery.

If you happen to be one of those tourists, we have just the book for you, a unique insight into city by foreigners who now call Kyoto their home, called Amazing Kyoto.

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Oral care survey suggests foreigners think Japan has breath issues….

After having lived in Japan for a number of years, you get used to the certain ways in which it smells kinda different to your home country. For example, people here tend to wear less cologne and perfume so you’re not as likely to have your nostril hairs singed by someone who has doused themselves with eau de celeb as you share a train carriage on your morning commute. On the other hand, smoking is absolutely everywhere in Japan and you can expect to come home with your hair and clothes stinking of smoke after barely an hour at your local izakaya, even if you never touch the cancer sticks yourself.

But a new survey conducted by an oral care company has found evidence that suggests one of the things foreign visitors to Japan notice is the huge number of people with bad breath! Apparently, this halitosis has left many a foreigner visitor “disappointed” with the country, whatever that means…

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Four moments when Japan’s single men are glad they’re not married

We all know marriage and live-in-partnerships have a lot going for them. From constant companionship to support when you’re stressed with work or family problems, the idea of cohabiting with that special someone is powerful enough to sweep even the most jaded singleton off their feet.

In Japan, where pre-marriage cohabitation is still considered somewhat taboo, married life is a serious commitment with traditional roles that involve self-sacrifice and obligation, not only to one’s partner but to their extended family. So what do the single men of Japan think about marriage versus the bachelor life? A recent survey reveals the moments men are glad they’ve never put a ring on it and the interesting reasons why.

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Three myths about Japan you may be surprised to learn aren’t true! 【Video】

When people visit or move to a different country, they usually find it’s different from the image they’ve conjured up in their heads. Fortunately for those interested in Japan, there are quite a few channels on YouTube devoted to bringing you a real glimpse at everyday life in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In one recent video, three prominent bloggers from the Japan vlogging community met up last week to introduce three myths that people abroad often believe about Japan.
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Five things you need to know about Obon–one of Japan’s biggest holidays 【Videos & more】

If the idea of your loved ones leaving this earth never to return again seems unfair, then you should consider the Japanese view of the afterlife. While nothing can change death itself, it is comforting to know that in Japan there is a special time of the year when the souls of the dead come back to visit the living. This is called Bon (or Obon using the honorific “o”) a holiday period from August 12-16 (exact dates may vary depending upon location), a time when the entire country takes a break to celebrate the “festival of the dead.” It’s a lively few days when the living and the dead can once again unite to eat together, drink together and share good times.

The Bon tradition gives the country some of the unique dances that Japan is so famous for. Tokushima’s Bon dance, called Awa Odori, for example, draws over one million tourists every year. Traditional Bon entertainment is so lively, colorful and intriguing that a Bon dance is a must-see on every traveler’s itinerary.

Today we’ll introduce you to a five things you should know about Obon. Needless to say, it’s a very exciting time to be in Japan as a tourist!

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7 Japanese customs that even Japanese people wish would just disappear

Japan has a lot of unique customs, and not all of them make sense to newcomers. Eating fried chicken on Christmas Eve, anyone? How about the weird ritual of girls giving chocolate to guys on Valentine’s Day (do guys really like chocolate more than we girls do?).

But it turns out that there are plenty of customs that even Japanese people think are a waste of time. Here’s the top seven worst offenders, and why they are so annoying…

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Documentary about Japanese gold leaf process ignites interest in cultural arts online【Video】

With our Japan Wish competition winner Ashley now in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, she now has access to many of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations, like Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavillion, that we hope she makes her way to sometime during her stay.

This temple, which gets its name from the gold leaf that covers the upper two stories of the pavilion, was built during the Muromachi period (1337–1573), when much of the traditional Japanese art and culture recognized today began to flourish thanks to beneficial relationships between Japan and China as well as the spread of Zen Buddhism. This extended to architecture as well, where ornate decorations like gold leaf on Buddhist temples acted as a purifier against pollution of the outside world and inside the mind (on top of its structural benefits against weather and decay).

Over time, Kanazawa area of Ishikawa Prefecture, which produced the gold leaf used for Kinkakuji, became Japan’s top producer in gold leaf. Even today, Kanazawa produces 99% of the country’s gold leaf, and recently a wonderful documentary highlighting this traditional art has been garnering praise online both domestically and abroad.

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Twitter photo collection of Hollywood celebrities doing Japanese things in Japan

If there’s one thing Japanese people love more than Hollywood celebrities visiting Japan, it’s Hollywood celebrities visiting Japan and doing Japanese things.

Japanese Twitter user @syerinngamu recently posted a collection of photos of international celebrities doing just that. From wearing yukata to beating taiko drums to breaking open barrels of sake with a hammer and more, the pictures prove that nothing warms Japanese people’s hearts more than seeing someone internationally famous doing something cultural in their homeland.

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Why is even Japan’s packaging cute? Delivery company decorates its boxes with cats

One of the things I love the most about Japan is how most people here seem to have a non-ironic, totally open and serious love of all things cute. Taking the mundane and making it adorable is basically a Japanese art in and of itself; even their packaging is full of hidden messages and cute sayings.

Now, Japan’s Twitter users have been cooing over parcel company Yamato Kuroneko’s cardboard boxes, which feature adorable marching kitties that are revealed as you open the box. Because why not?

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Japan Bucket List — 8 things you need to do to really understand Japan

Your first trip to Japan is bound to be a whirlwind visit as you try to pack so many things into a short period of time. Do go to Tokyo and see the white-gloved train pushers, the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, and many of the scenes depicted in anime and manga. Do go to Kyoto and see the shrines and temples that are simply amazing.

But as a country that has so much to offer, it can take years to really get to know and understand Japan, even when you live here. So if you want to take your understanding of Japan a step further, we’re here to suggest a few things you’ll want to experience in order to better understand Japanese culture: things that give you insight on what’s behind the Japanese way of thinking.

These experiences will help you understand who the Japanese people are, and why they act the way they do. Get ready to move from tourist to cultural expert after the jump!

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Japanese people share their family mottos, from “Eat first, think later” to “New Year, new pants”

Kakun (家訓) literally means “family precept”, and refers to the principles that an individual Japanese family lives by.

These might consist of a list of rules for children to follow – run-of-the-mill stuff like “treat others as you would like to be treated”, “don’t tell lies”, and “respect your elders” – or, a family’s kakun might be a single defining motto that applies to all family life. Kakun might be written on parchment and framed on the wall; or it might just be a phrase your mother (or father!) yells at you when you forget to put your socks in the wash again.

Japanese site Naver Matome recently put together a collection of Japanese Twitter users’ interesting and unusual family mottos. Here’s our pick of the bunch!

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Top five ways YouTuber Ashiya is turning Japanese, or “You know you live in Japan when…” 【Video】

If you’ve ever lived abroad, changed schools, or even just been to your cousin’s house for the weekend, you’ll know that our environment shapes the way we think and behave. I used to work with Americans who laughed at the fact I would say I was “going to the toilet” – apparently that sounded overly specific and was a bit too much information for their liking. Back in my native England, I found that if I asked where the “bathroom” was, I would be oh-so-comically directed to the room with the bath in and asked why I needed to wash in the middle of the day.

Many people find that spending time in another culture does change their actions, right down to unthinking mannerisms. That’s what Russian YouTuber Ashiya has been thinking about lately too, as she shared her top five ways she’s become more Japanese since living in Tokyo.

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In a country steeped in tradition, two prefectures are completely void of historical temples

Japan is often praised for its ability to preserve traditional customs and architecture while still functioning as a modern society. There are few other places in the world where you can be in the middle of a buzzing metropolis, only to turn a corner and be face-to-face with a shrine that has stood for centuries. But did you know that there are actually entire prefectures that do not contain a single old temple?

Join us after the jump as we explore two such places and explain exactly why architecture that was hundreds of years old disappeared.

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Fancy a cuppa? We explore the UK’s unusual takes on Japanese green tea

In the UK, where I’m from, people get really passionate about tea. It’s the first thing you offer someone who is a visitor to your home, and remembering how someone likes their tea made is one way of showing that you care about them. We’re also fussy about the ritual behind making tea (you should see what happens in my house when someone puts the milk in first). In this way, we’re kinda like the Japanese.

In Japan, they drink green tea rather than black tea, but their attitude towards it matches ours. It’s both something for all-day long refreshment, and for special occasions. They’re also really into the ceremony behind it, with chadou, or tea ceremony, being a celebrated art in Japan.

So, what happens when the tea companies try to make green tea happen in the UK? A whole lot of added flavourings, that’s what! Join us after the jump for a taste test!

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Buddhist monks cultivate cat haven at Fukui Prefecture’s “Kitty Temple”

Here’s a familiar saying: “In Ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as gods; they have never forgotten this.” Certainly in Japan, cats are still given a huge amount of respect, with entire islands of moggies being given free roam to peacefully exist in their own little kitty ecosystem. Of course, things aren’t perfect, and stray and abandoned cats are a sad reality in Japan as much as they are in many other countries. But today we’re here to appreciate the happy cats of Gotanjo temple in Fukui Prefecture, who are lovingly tended to by Buddhist monks and fawned over by the adoring tourists who come to visit. You can even get a special kitty cat fortune and see what’s in store for the coming year!

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Stinky train tracks, expensive imports and no weekends: netizens remember Showa-era Japan

The Showa period (1926-1989) was a time of immense change for Japan when the country went from being an imperial power to a poverty-stricken post-war nation and then becoming an economic powerhouse that dominated automotive and electronic industries around the world. Twenty-seven years since that era ended and the current Heisei era began, fond memories of “Showa Japan” still flood many Japanese minds.

But a recent online poll asked netizens to take off their rose-tinted glasses and consider the aspects of daily Showa-period life that, while seeming completely normal back then, would be unthinkable now. Join us after the jump for a look at the slightly grim feedback.

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From Dad’s autograph to a pack of peanuts: People in Japan reveal their worst Christmas presents

Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic date night than a family gathering, and comes with its own set of new(ish) customs, from KFC to strawberry shortcake.

There are some aspects of the modern western Christmas that Japan has adopted unadulterated, however, and one of those is the shopping. And while we’re sure there are plenty of awesome presents exchanged at this time of year, a recent report from Japanese magazine Peachy showed that almost fifty percent of Japanese people surveyed have received a disappointing present from Santa-san.

So what kind of rubbish presents have Japanese parents been putting in their kids’ stockings? Join us after the jump to find out!

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Six non-traditional osechi New Year’s meals in Japan

New Year’s in Japan is usually celebrated with family huddled under the kotatsu while munching on mikans, and sharing a dinner of traditional food, called osechi. Each component of the meal retains an auspicious meaning, granting the eater with good fortune, health, or fertility, among other things, during the coming year.

However, in recent years, an increasingly large population of Japan’s youth have chosen to forgo eating osechi. There are many reasons osechi has been disappearing from Japanese homes during New Year’s, but these changing tastes have given rise to a smorgasbord of strange, unique, and, frankly, comparatively tastier pre-made osechi meals. From cooked isopods to a box full of meat, let’s take a closer look at six modern day osechi.

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Compulsory manga? Top Taiwanese university’s manga course has a waitlist of thousands

Like the rest of my classmates in my first Japanese class, I was inspired by manga to start learning Japanese. Although manga is usually deemed as ‘leisure’ reading, there are some quality manga that deal with serious societal issues. In fact, at National Cheng Chi University, one of the top universities in Taiwan, there is actually a class in which you have to read manga. Mandatory manga readings? It’s no wonder the class is so popular that some students have to wait four years to get in!

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