A portrait

Sketching Japanese culture

A portrait

The Japanese people are polite, courteous, kind, generous and always happy to help you explore their wonderful country. Japan is a very different country, regardless where you come from, and the language means that it is always a struggle at first. Luckily, we are here to help!

Living in Japan is guaranteed to be fun, although there are times when the society gets very pressing. Indeed, things are done very differently, and you might be expected to wait long minutes without actually knowing why you are. It's okay, that's just how things are out there!

The Japanese themselves are extremely kind and polite, and you will never encounter any problems in this country. Even the yakuza stay clear of foreigners, as they are of no importance to them.

Important holidays

Japan is a country with many holidays. Mainly, people use them to offset the amount of time spent at work. Generally, the most important holiday is considered to be the New Year, at which point all the shops close for about three days, and families gather together. It can be said that the New Year is more or less our equivalent of Christmas.

Immediately following the New Year is the “coming of age” (seijin no hi), celebrated on the second Monday of January, at which point all people who turned 20 the year before are expected to attend a ceremony at their local town hall. This is a particularly impressive event to attend (you do not need to be invited, although it might be slightly awkward) as the Japanese are required to wear formal dress, and you will usually have the opportunity to spot many gorgeous kimono.

Come spring, everyone sits outside with their friends to celebrate hanami. This is when the cherry trees blossom, and it is customary to meet in parks to drink beer whilst admiring their beauty. Japanese friends will always organise this, and even bring the blankets to sit on! The real idea is not so much about the blossoms, but more about the beer, and will normally end when everyone is too tipsy to remember the way home. It is absolutely stunning to see how the parks fill up with people until there is no room left to walk around. Plan ahead when you need the toilet, as the queue can take up to half an hour.

In the summer, hanabi is the tradition, but this time replace the cherry blossoms with fireworks! It is exactly the same thing, and definitely worth a sight (Japanese fireworks are grandiose and include rockets you've never seen before, such as Mickey Mouse ones). Try to go to one within walking distance, as you'll regret needing to catch the train afterwards. If you go to the Sumida river fireworks, you only have a limited amount of time on the bridge so that everyone can get a glance, so try to time it to be there for the end!

Local cuisine

Yes, the Japanese eat raw fish. No, it is not actually their customary meal. Sushi bars are numerous, but they are actually for celebrations mainly. They are, however, quite cheap. Seeing them go around on the little conveyor belt is quite amusing, until you see the fish head too. Plates have different colours based on the price of the fish, and they are usually indicated on the wall. Bear that in mind, as you might end up eating the 500 yen plates. If you fear raw fish, don't go; there is nothing else to eat in these restaurants.

The Japanese also love their noodles. Ramen, soba, udon, either in soup or fried; they are absolutely delicious. It is absolutely normal to eat scolding soup in the summer, and it is considered good manners to slurp as loudly as possible when you're eating (the chef will appreciate it). The menus are generally not translatable without going into a long explanation as to what the soup is made of, so just pick something at random and enjoy!

Yakiniku is actually considered to be Korean barbecue, but you will not regret going to a tabehodai (all-you-can-eat). You are usually given the choice between what kind of meat you want, and you might see some liver and tongue in the plates. Highly convivial, as you can cook your own food. If you like your meat rare or medium, do not let the Japanese cook it for you, as they tend to only eat well done (and more).

Okonomiyaki, or Japanese omelette, is worth a try. In most restaurants, the cooking is up to you, and they bring you a bowl with the ingredients already prepared. It is up to you to mix it all together and put it straight on the hot plate. Let it grill, add sauce, mayonnaise and fish flakes and consume. You can have it with pork or seafood depending on your tastes.

There are many other kinds of Japanese food, such as takoyaki, oden, sukiyaki, shabu shabu and many more, all of which worth a try. However, in general, you will find that Japanese food is rather on the subtle side, if not bland. Amateurs of spicy food, head over to Korean restaurants and try the kimchi!

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: