What you didn’t know about the Cultural Values of Japan

What you didn’t know about the Cultural Values of Japan

The Japanese culture is a multi-layered and complex system that has been developing within itself and forming new layers for thousands of years.

In Japanese culture, the family is highly valued. Family ties are strong in Japan and bind not only the living extended family but also generations of ancestors. One may notice that Japanese are not physically demonstrative in public – therefore one may not see any kissing and hugging on the streets. You do see friends and parents and children holding hands though. One of the ways families express their affection is by snuggling around the kotatsu (heated table covered with a comforter) in the winter, as well as by eating mikan (mandarin oranges) and watching TV. Another way is to scrub each other’s backs in the family bath. Also, parents and children sleep together on the family futon, generally until the children reach the age 10 or so.

In addition, people are really helpful - so if you get lost in the city, don’t be shocked if they help out and even lead you to your destination. You’ll surely discover that most people are very honest, too. For instance, if you forget something on the subway, you will most likely find it at the lost and found office. And there’s always a kouban, or police box, nearby with detailed maps to help you find your way.

Some of the core values, in Japan, are thinking of others, doing your best, not giving up, respecting your elders, knowing your role, and the capacity to work in a group. These concepts are taught explicitly and implicitly from nursery school into the working world. From a very young age, Japanese kids are taught omoiyari (meaning, to notice and think of others). Also, students have to pass difficult entrance examinations in order to move to the next level of education, and in the process, they learn that thatganbaru (meaning, effort) and gaman (meaning, enduring) are more important - even crucial - in reaching their goals than native ability.

Japanese values are also mirrored in the phrases used in daily interactions, which smooth relationships and acknowledge the presence of others. Wherever you go in Japan, everyone knows the exact words to say before and after meals, when they leave home, when they arrive to school or work, when they part with someone and meet them again. For instance, when you enter a store, restaurant, bank, or post office, the entire staff welcomes you with "Irasshai-mase" and definitely showers you with "Arigatoo gozaimasu" when you depart.

The most practical phrase to learn before you go to Japan is "Onegai shimasu", which means, roughly, " wish for" or "I sincerely request". It’s the ideal thing to say when you introduce yourself, when you buy something, when you ask for a favor, when you order in a restaurant, as well as when you ask someone to dance.

When going to Japan, most people may expect that everyone will look the same, dress the same, live the same, and talk the same. And, to a certain extent, this may be true. Japanese people may appear to be more or less uniform in dress or behavior. But, this actually reflects an underlying value of not drawing attention to oneself in public, particularly among the older generation. However, Japan is neither monocultural nor monolingual.

In addition to Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, a flow of people and ideas has entered the country from China, Korea, Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, England, North America, Brazil, and elsewhere for at least 2,000 years.

Buddhism and Christianity, the writing system, medicine, models of government, business, and education, as well as sports and cuisine have derived-partially-from the outside and have become a part of Japanese culture.

In turn, Japan has had a great influence on many other cultures.



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