Cultural resume Japan

Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is very limited. he climate and landscape of the country. Formation of language and contemporary trends, religious trends. Household and national traditions. Gender Roles in Japan.

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Cultural resume Japan


Konnichiwa (kon-nichee wah) is the Japanese way to say good morning or hello. I think every foreigner should learn this, if he/she wants to visit this extraordinary country.

Japan is in the continent of Asia. Its country is made up of many islands. Since the sun rises in the east, Japan is often called The Land of The Rising Sun. That's why the Japanese refer to their country as Nippon or Nihon which means source of the sun. The Japanese flag represents a red sun on a white background. The capital of Japan is Tokyo. In fact it is one of the largest cities in the world. It is modern, very busy, and extremely crowded. In fact, today, Japan is a modernized country. They have factories, televisions, radios, cameras, and other familiar objects.

I've always wanted to visit this wonderful country (since childhood), because I've heard a lot about their uncommon, original, distinctive traditions and it is very interesting for me to learn more, so I've chosen Japan.

1. The nation


Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the constitution as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people. Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people. [The Constitution of Japan] Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan; Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, stands as next in line to the throne.

Japan's legislative organ is the National Diet, a bicameral parliament. The Diet consists of a House of Representatives with 480 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved, and a House of Councillors of 242 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal suffrage for adults over 20 years of age, [World Factbook: Japan 2011] with a secret ballot for all elected offices. The Diet is dominated by the social liberal Democratic Party of Japan and the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP has enjoyed near continuous electoral success since 1955, except for a brief 11 month period between 1993 and 1994, and from 2009 to 2012. It holds 294 seats in the lower house and 83 seats in the upper house.

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government and is appointed by the Emperor after being designated by the Diet from among its members. The Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet, and he appoints and dismisses the Ministers of State. Following the LDP's landslide victory in the 2012 general election, Shinz Abe replaced Yoshihiko Noda as the Prime Minister on 26 December 2012. [The New York Times (New York) 2013] Although the Prime Minister is formally appointed by the Emperor, the Constitution of Japan explicitly requires the Emperor to appoint whoever is designated by the Diet.

Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese legal system developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki. [Dean, Meryll (2002). Japanese legal system pp. 55-58.] However, since the late 19th century the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably Germany. For example, in 1896, the Japanese government established a civil code based on a draft of the German Brgerliches Gesetzbuch; with post-World War II modifications, the code remains in effect. [Kanamori, Shigenari (1 January 1999) pp93-95] Statutory law originates in Japan's legislature and has the rubber stamp of the Emperor. The Constitution requires that the Emperor promulgate legislation passed by the Diet, without specifically giving him the power to oppose legislation. Japan's court system is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court and three levels of lower courts. [The Japanese Judicial System] The main body of Japanese statutory law is called the Six Codes.

Educational systems

Primary schools, secondary schools and universities were introduced in 1872 as a result of the Meiji Restoration. [Ellington, Lucien (1 December 2003). Beyond the Rhetoric: Essential Questions About Japanese Education] Since 1947, compulsory education in Japan comprises elementary and middle school, which together last for nine years (from age 6 to age 15). Almost all children continue their education at a three-year senior high school, and, according to the MEXT, as of 2005 about 75.9 percent of high school graduates attend a university, junior college, trade school, or other higher education institution. [School Education MEXT 2007]

The two top-ranking universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University. [TOP - 100. Global Universities Ranking 2010] [QS World University Rankings 2010 2010] The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD currently ranks the overall knowledge and skills of Japanese 15-year-olds as sixth best in the world. [OECD's PISA survey shows some countries making significant gains in learning outcomes]

2. Geography/climate

Japan has a total of 6,852 islands extending along the Pacific coast of East Asia. [Facts and Figures of Japan 2007 01: Land. Foreign Press Center Japan] [Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications 2010.] The main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaid, Honsh, Shikoku and Kysh. The Ryky Islands, including Okinawa, are a chain to the south of Kysh. Together they are often known as the Japanese Archipelago. [McCargo, Duncan (2000). Contemporary Japan. Macmillan. pp. 8-11]

About 73 percent of Japan is forested, mountainous, and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use. [Japan. US Department of State] As a result, the habitable zones, mainly located in coastal areas, have extremely high population densities. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. [World Population Prospects 2007]

The islands of Japan are located in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire. They are primarily the result of large oceanic movements occurring over hundreds of millions of years Japan was originally attached to the eastern coast of the Eurasian continent. The subducting plates pulled Japan eastward, opening the Sea of Japan around 15 million years ago. [Barnes, Gina L. (2003). Origins of the Japanese Islands]

Japan has 108 active volcanoes. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunami, occur several times each century. [Tectonics and Volcanoes of Japan 2007] The 1923 Tokyo earthquake killed over 140,000 people [James, C.D. (2002). The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and Fire] More recent major quakes are the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake and the 2011 Thoku earthquake, a 9.0-magnitude [USGS analysis as of 2011-03-12. 2011] quake which hit Japan on 11 March 2011, and triggered a large tsunami. [Fackler, Martin; Drew, Kevin (11 March 2011). Devastation as Tsunami Crashes Into Japan]

The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south. Japan's geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones: Hokkaid, Sea of Japan, Central Highland, Seto Inland Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Ryky Islands. The northernmost zone, Hokkaido, has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and very warm to cool summers. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter. [Karan, Pradyumna Prasad; Gilbreath, Dick (2005). Japan in the 21st century pp. 18-21, 41]

In the Sea of Japan zone on Honsh's west coast, northwest winter winds bring heavy snowfall. In the summer, the region is cooler than the Pacific area, though it sometimes experiences extremely hot temperatures because of the foehn wind. The Central Highland has a typical inland humid continental climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter, and between day and night; precipitation is light, though winters are usually snowy. The mountains of the Chgoku and Shikoku regions shelter the Seto Inland Sea from seasonal winds, bringing mild weather year-round.

The Pacific coast features a humid subtropical climate that experiences milder winters with occasional snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind. The Ryukyu Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season. The generally humid, temperate climate exhibits marked seasonal variation such as the blooming of the spring cherry blossoms, the calls of the summer cicada and fall foliage colors that are celebrated in art and literature.

The average winter temperature in Japan is 5.1C (41.2F) and the average summer temperature is 25.2C (77.4F). [Climate JNTO] The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the rain front gradually moves north until reaching Hokkaid in late July. In most of Honsh, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain. [Essential Info: Climate. JNTO]

3. Language

More than 99 percent of the population speaks Japanese as their first language. Japanese is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary indicating the relative status of speaker and listener. Japanese writing uses kanji (Chinese characters) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on simplified Chinese characters), as well as the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals. [Miyagawa, Shigeru. The Japanese Language]

Besides Japanese, the Ryukyuan languages, also part of the Japonic language family, are spoken in Okinawa; however, few children learn these languages. [Heinrich, Patrick (January 2004). Language Planning and Language Ideology in the Ryky Islands. Language Policy 3 (2): 153-179.] The Ainu language, which has no proven relationship to Japanese or any other language, is moribund, with only a few elderly native speakers remaining in Hokkaido. [15 families keep ancient language alive in Japan 2008.] Most public and private schools require students to take courses in both Japanese and English. [Ellington, Lucien (1 September 2005). Japan Digest: Japanese Education 2006.]

4. Religion

Japan enjoys full religious freedom based on Article 20 of its Constitution. Upper estimates suggest that 84-96 percent of the Japanese population subscribe to Buddhism or Shinto, including a large number of followers of a syncretism of both religions. [Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (15 September 2006). International Religious Freedom Report 2006] However, these estimates are based on people affiliated with a temple, rather than the number of true believers. Other studies have suggested that only 30 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to a religion. [Kisala, Robert (2005). In Wargo, Robert. The Logic Of Nothingness: A Study of Nishida Kitar pp. 3-4.] According to Edwin Reischauer and Marius Jansen, some 70-80% of the Japanese regularly tell pollsters they do not consider themselves believers in any religion. [The Japanese today: change and continuity (2nd ed.). Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 1988. p. 215.]

Nevertheless, the level of participation remains high, especially during festivals and occasions such as the first shrine visit of the New Year. Taoism and Confucianism from China have also influenced Japanese beliefs and customs. [Totman, Conrad (2005). A History of Japan (2nd ed.). Blackwell. p. 72.] Japanese streets are decorated on Tanabata, Obon and Christmas. Fewer than one percent of Japanese are Christian. [Kato, Mariko (24 February 2009). Christianity's long history in the margins. Japan Times] Other minority religions include Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Judaism, and since the mid-19th century numerous new religious movements have emerged in Japan. [Clarke, Peter, ed. (1993). The World's religions: understanding the living faiths. Reader's Digest. p. 208.]

5. The People


The ie (, home), or ideal/traditional view of the Japanese family stems from the Edo period. This version of the Japanese family is more concerned with the extension of the household than the individuals. For example: if the eldest son is not capable of being the head of the family, the second son may replace him, or if a woman fails to please the in-laws or produce a child for the family, she may be divorced.

By extending their household, the family is concurrently expanding kin relationships. Another aspect of the traditional family is that the man is always the head of the household, which means he makes the decisions and provides income for the family, while the wife stays at home and manages the house and children.

A subtype of the traditional family structure is the multigenerational family. Multigenerational households are comprised of the paternal grandparents, a sarari-man father, a full-time stay at home mother, and the children. So this traditional or ideal view of family in Japan is actually not that different from the traditional view of family in other countries. However, just like in other counties, this view does not always correspond with the reality.

The most common type of Japanese family is the Nuclear family. The nuclear family is comprised of a married couple with or without children and does not focus on the extended family, as the ideal view does. However it is still common to find the husband providing the majority of the income, but the wife may help by partaking in a part-time job.


Japan has a very different dating culture than that of the West. We can best describe it as courting with initial ambiguity. Things also move much more slowly than in the west.

From the perspective of a man.

Initial dating, or the lead up to dating, always begins in a group. You go out with mutual friends, or a group of your friends and a group of her friends together. You will probably only bring friends of the same sex. Being in a group diffuses the pressure and allows each party to take stock of the company the other keeps. In the group, you focus almost solely on the one you are interested in. If you can, you may break off from the group as to only talk with each other. This is how you show interest.

After several outings like this, say five or six, you may ask to do something just the two of you. A movie, grabbing coffee or going to the park. Typical date type things, but generally in public. This allows each of you to gauge how you feel about being alone with the other. After spending time together outside of the group for a while, also probably five or six times, one person will confess their love for the other. This is called kokuhaku, and is in most cases done by the man. If the other returns those feelings, then they become boyfriend and girlfriend. The relationship then proceeds as relationships between boyfriends and girlfriends do.

At the point of kokuhaku is where we consider two people to begin dating. Everything before that is considered getting to know each other in a friendly manner. In the West we would argue that dating is simply getting to know someone better with romantic intent to see if you would like a relationship with them, so that the time spent outside of the group would be considered dates. From my understanding the Japanese do not see it that way.

Also to be noted is that no physical intimacy occurs until after becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. We don't just mean sex, but kissing and I think even hand holding. All of that comes after the relationship. Attempting a kiss can make a Japanese person think you are only interested in sex or a physical relationship and not a serious or romantic relationship.

The use of kokuhaku is also a bit of a culture shock for Westerners. Love is a very powerful word and concept in English. Telling someone I love you in such a manner as kokuhaku is consequently very serious. In Western dating one would only tell someone I love you after being boyfriend and girlfriend for a good amount of time. One says those words only with someone they feel they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Westerners try not to say those words until they are sure of that feeling. Most Westerners prefer romantic actions over confessions of love. With an action you don't need to think, simply to do. One will feel what they feel and it clarifies any concerns or confusions. Most commonly we use a kiss. Kissing is a very clear sign that someone likes and wants to date you.

Because of the kokuhaku culture expressing interest in someone can also be tricky for a Westerner. The Japanese language does not contain gradations of the word like. All of the general words used to tell someone you have feelings for them in Japanese (D suki, D daisuki, mĂ ai shitteru) are equivalent to telling someone you love them. Each one is just a stronger way of saying that you love them. So far as I know there is no Japanese equivalent for like in the way it is used in English. This can be confusing as D which is generally translated into English as like isn't used in the same manner when applied to people in Japanese. If a Westerner tells a Japanese person in English I like you or in Japanese D it will be interpreted as I love you. Most likely they will think you are giving a kokuhaku and asking them to become your significant other. The Westerner in this case most likely only wants to go on a few dates and learn if they would be interested in becoming boyfriend and girlfriend if things work out [How to date in japan August 7, 2011. Blog at]

stereotypes or prejudices held

Nonverbal communication


In Japan, silence is just as important as speaking. It is a designated moment to understand what has just been communicated. It is a moment to think and an opportunity to respond in a well thought out manner. In the West, silence is considered as an awkward moment and we try to mask this uncomfortable feeling with words. It is best not to try to break the silence as you might appear insincere. It would be better to relax and appear patient with your Japanese counterpart. You should be considering the value of what has been said.

Silence or what is not said can be just as important as what is said. If one point is said, the listener is expected to understand the others points that are not said. You must read in between the lines or pick up on what has been implied. Often the subject of a sentence is not stated in so many words; it is just understood who or what is being referred to.

Facial gestures

The uncommitted face of the Japanese is very common. It is considered rude to overtly express your emotions in public. The Poker Face is used to cover up negative emotions as well as used as a shield to protect your privacy.

The smile can often be an expression that conceals embarrassment, pain, or anguish. In an uncomfortable situation it is not uncommon for the Japanese to give a nervous laugh or awkward smile to conceal the true emotion.

Eye contact is often a Western signal for confidence or sincerity. In many cases, the Japanese consider direct and constant eye contact a rude gesture that means defiance or challenge. The Japanese may shift their eyes or look down to show respect to another.


In the beginning, it is best to refrain from forms of physical contact such as a pat on the back or a hug. The Japanese do not show signs of affection or emotions in public. Young couples may be seen holding hands, but it is embarrassing to see spouses kiss in public.

Showing respect to objects

Material objects or items from someone are shown just as much respect as the person might be. Business cards are not folded, written on, or fiddled with. A guest's coat is not thrown over a chair but instead hung up carefully, sometimes taking care to brush away imaginary lint. The wrapping paper on a gift that has been graciously presented is not crumpled up insignificantly, rather it is gently folded and the ribbon often retied around the paper or placed carefully on top of the wrapping paper. At a traditional Japanese restaurant or home, the guest's shoes are placed together and turned around so that the guest can easily put his or her shoes back on when leaving. Furniture is used properly; you do not lean on a desk or sit on a table.


It is best not to use hand or other gestures as you might mistake the correct meaning of the signal or use them at inappropriate times. The following is a short list so you are aware of some signs of communication between the Japanese.

Me - pointing to one's nose or touching the nose.

Listening - nodding one's head up and down, this should not be mistaken with a yes gesture. It means that one is listening, not necessarily agreeing.

Negative - fanning one's hand back and forth in front of the face as if to nod no with the hand or fan away flies.

Modesty or embarrassment - covering the mouth with a hand, usually by women.

Anger - pointing the index fingers up from the temples - mimicking a devil with horns.

Fighting - cris-crossing the index fingers or tapping the index fingers together.

Money - forming a circle with the thumb and index fingers together - similar to what is sometimes used in the West to mean OK.

Eating - holding an imaginary rice bown in the left hand while pretending to shovel rice into the mouth with chopsticks with the right hand.

Drinking - miming the wrist action of taking a drink from a small sake cup.

Come here - waving the hand in a back and forth motion with the fingers pointed downwards. [Japan Guide - tpl=vacation_guides_japan_guide_non-verbal_communication]

Japanese eating customs

Meals prepared in traditional Japanese style are served on low tables set up on the floor. People sit on the floor and don't start eating until the oldest male or someone says `let's eat' and everybody says itaeakimas. When offering a plate, dish, glass or bottle to someone who is older than you, you show respect by using two hands to present the object.

Japanese generally don't use napkins. At restaurants, customers are served hot towels, which sometimes can be used like a napkin. At home people sometimes use tissues. In any case, it is good idea to have your own tissues handy in case you need one. Many Japanese carefully fold their towel or tissue after finishing their meal rather than wadding it up.

Sometimes Japanese don't drink anything with a meal. Sometimes water or green tea is served. Often a soup serves the same purpose as a drink. It is served in a lacquered bowl which is picked up and sipped like a drink. Items in the soup are picked out with chopsticks. A spoon is not used. The Japanese also tend to eat their rice separately from the main dish. They often take one bite of rice and then one bite of the main dish so it mixes in their mouth.

Eating Don'ts in Japan

Japanese consider it uncouth to lick your fingers or blow your nose, especially when eating. Japanese are offended if you dump soy sauce or salt all your food. They regards this as an efforts to mask the flavor of food that taste bad. If you use a toothpick cover your mouth while you do it. Also remember that an empty rice bowl if often a sign that you have finished eating.

Japanese consider it somewhat rude to eat in front of non-eating people, or to eat while walking down the streets. The latter custom dates back to a time when eating in public was considered mean to people who didn't have enough to eat. In 8th century Japan there was a law that required anyone caught in the act of drinking while standing up to commit suicide. With the rising popularity of fast food, many people now eat on the streets on subways. Eating on trains is the norm.

Slurping in Japan

Japanese often make loud slurping noises when eating noodles. Making noise is not considered impolite, rather, it is considered a compliment and an expression of enjoying the food. One man told AP, It'll be a truly lonely feeling when nobody makes slurping noises anymore. In some situations, a particularly loud slurp means you've finished eating.

Many Japanese, especially older men, believe that noodles taste better when they hot and drenched in broth and are best appreciated when slurped. Among the ranks of unapologetic noodle slurpers are Prime Minister Junichito Koizumi. Sometimes a well-timed burp is also taken as a compliment.

These days many Japanese, especially young women find noodle slurping noises to be offensive and worry about splattering broth on their designer clothes. Slurping is for old men, one office worker told AP. Slurping has nothing to do whether it taste good or not.

Chopsticks, Servings and Dishes in Japan

Japanese eat all Japanese-style meals with chopsticks. Even soup is consumed with chopsticks (the ingredients are eaten with chopsticks and the soup is drunk from the bowl). Many Japanese pick up their rice bowl when they are eating and place it under their mouths and use it as a safety net for anything that falls down. When a rice bowl isn't available they place their free hand under their chopsticks for the same purpose. Leaving chopsticks sticking up in a bowl of rice should be avoided. It is a sign of death. Most food is soft or small enough that it can picked up or cut with chopsticks. Forks, knives and spoons are used for eating Western food.

Japanese prefer disposal wooden chopsticks at restaurants and laminated wooden ones at home. Vietnamese often use plastic chopsticks while Korean tend to use metal ones for food dishes and a spoon for rice. In Japan, when you finish you using your chopsticks you should set your chopsticks in a little chopstick tray or place them horizontally on your plate or bowl in such a way that they are not pointing at anyone. If you forget some of these rules or get mixed up it is usually no great tragedy.

Meals often consist of many dishes, which are passed around and carried from the kitchen on trays and placed in the table. Each person serves himself some food from the dishes onto small plate. Sometimes there are different plates for different foods.

Ideally you should serve yourself with one set off chopsticks and eat with another. People often serve themselves by taking food from a serving dish with a serving spoon, their fingers or communal chopsticks and then placing them on a small plate in front of them. If there is no serving spoon or communal chopsticks, you should turn your chopsticks around and pick up the food with the end of your chopsticks that have not been placed in your mouth.

Restaurant Customs in Japan

When eating in a fancy restaurant with tatami mat floors you should remove your shoes when you enter the restaurant and change into slippers, which should be taken off before entering the eating room. If you go the bathroom you put the slippers on again and then change into a pair of different slippers in the bathroom and then change back into the original slipper when you return to the eating room.

Customers entering a restaurant are greeted with the expression Irasshaimase (Welcome) and asked by a waitress Namei sama (How many in your party). You can answer with your fingers. That is what most Japanese do. After being seated usually you will be given a hot towel to wipe your hands and face.

Japanese sometimes appear rude to service personal at restaurants, hotels and stores-shouting and ordering people around. This kind of behavior is considered acceptable.

Japanese Drinking Customs

Japanese usually don't start drinking until someone offers the toast kampai - (dry glass). The Chinese and Koreans use the same word for their toasts. As the evening progresses, Japanese often shout banzai! three times. It means live ten thousand years and is the equivalent of saying hip. hip, hooray! The custom of raising a glass and saying a loud toast caught on in the latter half of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and was influenced by the British Royal navy.

When drinking, one should not drink from the bottle or fill his or her own glass. The polite thing to do is fill someone else's glass and they in turn will fill yours. In some situations, it is rude to turn down a drink that is being offered to you. To avoid drinking too much keep you glass full. To avoid being rude accept a drink the first time it is offered to you by a particular individual. The second time he offers it is acceptable to politely say no.

These days Japanese often order beer by the glass rather than the bottle which means they are less likely to pour drinks for each than they did in the past. Often younger people hold the bottle with one hand when pouring for older people when etiquette requires them to hold it with two hands. This trend is attributed to decline if drinking between older and young people.

Sake Drinking

Sake is traditionally consumed in a porcelain cup called a sakazuki, or Japanese cedar boxes called masu. These containers are small and hold only a couple of swallows. This means that sake drinkers are usually busy filling one another's cups. Sometimes salt is placed on the rims of masus. Many true sake drinkers don't recommend using masu because they are awkward and add a wood taste to the sake. Wineglasses are better.

Fifteen degrees C is the recommended drinking temperature for most types of sake. Once a bottle has been opened it is good to drink it right away as oxygen will adversely affect the taste. Refrigeration is important. Avoid sake that is displayed on a liquor store shelf or has been transported without refrigeration. Thermoses are used to keep sake at the appropriate temperature at all times.

Japanese-Style Tea Drinking

The first step in drinking tea Japanese-style (not the tea ceremony) is to place all the necessary pots, cups and utensils in neat order on a small table. Fresh spring water is boiled on a special brazier and then poured into the handle-less cups and the pot to warm them-and then the water is thrown out. Water is next poured into a tea bowl so that it will be at the right temperature when the tea is ready.

The lid of the tea container is removed and placed on a special stand and the tea-about two grams per person-is placed in the pot with a special ladle and the slightly cooled water (about 70?C to 80?C) in the tea bowl is slowly and evenly poured into the tea pot and the lid is put back on the teapot. The tea brews for about two minutes before it is served.

The tea is then poured into ceramic cups with no handles a little bit at a time to make sure everyone receives tea of the same strength and quality. Tea drinkers are often served three cups: the first of which is fragrant, the second, strong, and the third, delicate. When a man prepares match for a woman it often has romantic implications. [Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications, 2009, by Jeffrey Hays]

6. Courtship and marriage


Many Japanese women are unlikely to take the lead while on a date because there is still a social taboo on female expressions of desire. Because of this, Japanese women are often more demure, cutesy, a little tempting but not overly forward.

Money can sometimes play a small part in early dates in Japan, where a man might mention his salary, more than once, to emphasize his ability to care for his date. This is almost a subconscious act that many westerners may consider pointless bragging, when it is not. This kind of conversation will often happen at blind date parties (goukon) where friends arrange for other friends to meet up to see if they like each other. Japan is much more a culture of introductions, swapping email addresses and business cards, than it is picking up dates in bars.

In a large city like Tokyo, where people are generally more forward thinking, dating couples will often book into a love hotel, a place geared specifically for romantic situations and usually equipped with a bath large enough for two people, video games, karaoke machines and other forms of entertainment. Although the love hotel is an obvious place for sex, some people do go there because it is one of the few places were a couple can be intimate, due to the fact their own homes are often very small and overcrowded with family. People from the more provincial areas of Japan, however, may well cringe at the thought of a love hotel and the forwardness of the Tokyo lifestyle.

Technology plays a huge part in modern Japanese dating rituals. Dates are arranged, rearranged and even initiated via text messages and phone emails. Dating sites are an obvious progression for Japanese people. Some Japanese people will spend days, or even weeks, sending messages back and forth before they ever meet someone face to face. When couples do start meeting in person they will often go to cafs, restaurants and bars. Some Japanese men will go to great lengths to find out the kinds of things a potential lover likes best before they arrange bookings at restaurants, or even simply meeting at a caf. They may even visit the planned venue of their date beforehand to make sure it's appropriate for their date, and make other arrangements if it is not.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Japanese dating and courting rituals is the arrangements you make. If you say you will meet someone at 10:30 on Tuesday, most Japanese people will expect you to be there at exactly 10:30 on Tuesday. If you don't show up they may wait and wait and wait, thinking some disaster has befallen you, then, if you do show up late, or ring to say why you didn't show up at all, they will think you inhuman and you will probably never hear from them again. [Japanese Courtship and Dating Rituals 2007-2013 Love Guide Me]

A traditional Japanese wedding

When it comes to wedding traditions, the Japanese is one of the most colorful cultures. For the bride wishing to adhere strictly to her background, the numbers of details in a traditional Japanese wedding may be somewhat staggering, as can be the cost, but anyone who has been a guest at a Japanese wedding will tell you that the results are more than worth both the effort and the expense. Traditional Japanese weddings are simply magnificent. Whether today's bride wishes to follow all the traditions, or incorporate just some, she has a smorgasbord of rituals from which to pick.

For the most part of people in Japan today, the tradition of prearranged marriages has become a thing of the past. In the year 1991, 12% of all the marriages were still considered arranged, mostly in the countryside. In 1973 this percentage was 40%.

Arranged marriages

Until not long ago, marriages in Japan were arranged by the parents of the man and woman. A mutual friend would be the matchmaker. Once both families agreed upon the match, they would meet at a formal dinner on a day that the Japanese almanac deemed auspicious. After the dinner, Yui-no (engagement) gifts, meant to symbolize happiness and fortune, were exchanged. The Mokuroku was the list of gifts which would be exchanged:

A hakama is a skirt that was given to the groom-to-be. It represented fidelity.

Naga-Noshi is abalone shell which is frequently used in Japan for crafts and gifts. It was meant to express the sincere wishes of the gift giver.


Katsuo-bushi is dried bonito, a very valuable preserved food ingredient that was used to make soup stock. It expressed the wish that the couple would have a lasting marriage.

Surume is dried cuttlefish, symbolic of good wish to the couple for a lasting marriage.

Konbu, is known for its ability to breed. It expresses the wish that the couple have happy and healthy children.

Shiraga is hemp. It is an exceedingly strong fiber and is used to symbolise wishes for strong family ties. Shiraga is literally translates as white hair. It is an appropriate gift to wish the couple a long and happy married life.

Suehiro is a fan that opens end to end and, therefore symbolizes wishes for happiness and a bright and happy future for the couple.

Yanagi-daru, a wine cask. Instead of this traditonal gift the couple may be given a cash gift which would be used to purchase traditonal sake (rice wine).

Sake casks are exchanged at the engagement dinner. They are made from yui-no, a willow trees with tender leaves. Yui-no sake casks were meant to symbolise a pledge for obedience and gentleness in marriage.

Most important amongst the gifts for a bride-to-be was an obi, a traditonal kimono sash. It represented female virtue.


The most popular time of year for Japanese weddings is spring, with June being the first choice. Couples will try to select a tomobiki day on which to schedule their nuptials. Tomobiki, which means drawing friends, is considered the most auspicious day for a wedding. These days are calculated according to the ancient Japanese calendar and, because they are select dates, must be booked well in advance.

Ceremony Locations

Traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies are either Buddhist or Shinto, with the Shinto religion dominant. The religious Shinto ceremony is held at a shrine. Shinto, literally translated as the way of the gods is the indigenous religion of, and is as old as, Japan herself. It is Japan's major religion besides Buddhism. Shinto shrines are places of worship and considered to be the dwellings of the kami, or Shinto gods. Sacred objects of worship that represent the kami are stored out of sight in the innermost chamber. The shrine is where people visit to pay their respects to the gods and pray the gift of good fortune. They are, therefore Logical places to hold a wedding ceremony. In Japan today, the shine may be moved into the venue at which the reception will take place.

Wedding Attire

Both the bride and the groom wear the traditional kimono for the ceremony. Couples today may change into Western wear at the reception. The bride and groom completely change their outfits three or more times. The custom dates from the 14th century and is called oironaoshi. It signifies the bride's preparedness to resume everyday life. The bride's traditional wedding costume is called a shiro-muku, a white silk undergarment that meaning literally white pure, a kimono she will usually wear at the beginning of the ceremony. During the ceremony, she will put on other, more elaborate kimonos, over the white one.

If the bride gets married in a traditional white wedding kimono, she may choose to come to the reception in a colorful embroidered kimono and then, if she so chooses, to change again, this time into typical western-wear. If she attends her ceremony in western garb, she may conversely come to the reception in a wedding dress, from which she changes into a wedding kimono and then into a party dress.

Donning a kimono is no easy task, so both bride and groom will have an attendant assisting them. Tying the obi, or belt, is particularly difficult. Accessories are an important component in the traditional attire. They include the proper hair style, traditional socks and shoes (a tabi, short, white toe socks and zori, thonglike clogs), underwear and the bride carries a small purse-style sack called hakoseko and a small encased sword called kaiken. She wears a fan in her obi belt because tradition compares the widening of the open fan to happiness and so it portends a happy future.

The undergarment is covered by a heavily embroidered, elaborate, richly patterned, silk brocade uchikake, or overkimono in red, white and gold. Cranes, scenes of flowers, flower carts, nature motifs and other traditional symbols of luck, health and long life are embroidered onto the fabric with gold thread. The uchikake kimono originated in the Edo era and was mainly worn only by court nobles. The bride will wear this kimono only once, because, in Japan, they reserved to be worn only by young, unmarried women. Red is the most popular uchikake kimono color, but they are also available in other colors.

The bride's hair is coifed in traditional Japanese style called bunkintakashimada and is adorned with beautiful kanzashi ornaments, combs and accessories. Her wig is covered with a white hood-like veil of cloth called a tsunokakushi, meaning demon horns. It is draped over her face. According to Japanese tradition, the veil is there to hide her demon horns. The horns are a sign of jealousy and, tradition states, that by covering them, she acknowledges her submission to her mother-in-law.

A white wedding hood called a literally meaning to hide horns is worn during the ceremony indicating that she will carry out her role as a wife with patience and serenity.

The bride's face is covered with white powder (declaring her maiden status to the gods), her eyes are outlined in a dark color and her lips are painted bright red.

The traditional Japanese wedding wear for the groom consists of an outer garment (Hakama) worn over a full-length kimono, split between the legs like pants. Hakama pants originally were an outer garment designed to protect the legs of samurai warriors from brush when they were riding a horse. The hakama today is worn as formal attire for wedding ceremonies, for dances, martial arts and by artists. The pants are made of cotton, rayon, or polyester-blend. The traditional color of the hakama is black, gray or brown with a white pinstripe. Today pants are available in many colors to suit the bride and groom ' s taste.


In a traditional wedding, a Shinto priest conducts the ceremony which is attended only by immediate family. The traditional Japanese musical accompaniment consists of flutes and is performed by artists called ga ga ku. The marriage of two people in traditional Japanese culture is not the union between a man and a woman, but the blending of two families. This is particularly evident when the bride and groom exchange vows. The two families face each other, while the bride and groom do not. Instead, the bride and groom stand between the families and face forward, while they make an oath to keep faithful and obedient to one another. A Shinto Japanese wedding may also take place at home in a temporary sanctuary on the Tokonoma (alcove) of the home. In addition to regional differences, in a home ceremony, the bride is seated first and a ceremony to give her away to the bridegroom is included. Some contemporary couples set up a shrine inside the hotel where the reception will be held.

The bride and groom are attended to by Miko maidens, serving sake in red and white dresses. An older couple, called Nakoudo, is responsible for managing the wedding. They are seated by the couple. The bridal couple, dressed in traditional kimonos, is purified, drinks sake, and the groom reads the words of commitment. The priest reads the wedding contract. Rice wine, called nihonshu or sake is the general Japanese terms for alcohol, which is made of rice and water and is about 20 percent alcohol. The sake, which is also served to the guests, is poured into three special cups of different sizes. The ceremony is called SanSanKudo, which means three sets of three sips equals nine. It dates back to the 8th century and is one of Japan' s oldest traditions. Using the smallest of the cups, the groom takes three sips. Then the bride does likewise. They do the same with the medium and large cups. At the end of the sake ceremony, both families drink a cup of sake, which represents the union of the bride and groom and unification of the two families. Drinking the wine is a sign that the marriage vows are sealed. An exchange of wedding rings is a modern practice that is popular today. At the close of the ceremony, symbolic offerings are given to the kami, this offering consists of three small twigs of Sakaki, a sacred tree. This ritual ends the ceremony. Today, many traditional Japanese ceremonies are followed by a western-style reception, but many still include tradition Japanese customs.


Women who attend a traditional Japanese wedding wear kimonos. Young women may wear colorful kimonos with long flowing furisode, or butterfly sleeves. Married women, to distinguish their marital status, will wear a more subdued homongi kimono. Men traditionally wear western-style suits.


After the ceremony, the couple welcomes the guests at a reception, called a Kekkon Hiroen. As few as 20 and as many as 200 or more guests may attend, which will include family, friends and business associates. The party begins with the go-betweens with an introduction of the bridegroom, bride and their families' backgrounds. In keeping with the concept that a marriage is about the joining of families, there is more emphasis in the introduction placed on the family than on the couple.

The attire worn by the bride at the reception is the most colorful aspect of the party. She wears Kanzashi, colorful ornaments, in her hair. The Uchikike gown is worn over the kimono is resplendent with ornamentation and embroidery. When she changes yet again, the bride will don another kimono, different in style from the first. Kimonos because of their intrinsic value and sentimental value are often handed down from generation to generation. When they are no longer wearable, they may be used as futon (bedding) material to keep them in the family.

Guests are seated according to their relationship with the couple. The names of guests and their table assignments are on a reception table at which guests are asked to sign the guest book. Here too, the welcome party collects the monetary gifts.

The full-course meal is served table-side. The festivities during the reception include participation by guests who contribute speeches and songs. Guests are invited to participate in games, skits and karaoke. As for the decor, red and white are considered to be an auspicious combination and so are abundantly used in a Japanese wedding. The colors will be reflected in the bride's kimono and even the soup and ice cream may have ingredients in those colors.

It is traditional to distribute wedding mementoes called Hikidemono, which traditionally include dried bonito or sugar, which signifies happiness in Japan. Other gifts may include beautifully wrapped traditional Japanese candies, to more valuable gifts like silverware, a clock, or sake to modern novelty items. Recently, the western rituals of cutting the cake, lighting candles, tossing the bouquet and honeymoons have also been incorporated. At the very end of the party, the couple will speech to all the guests and thank everybody.


Traditionally the bridal couple receives two gifts from each guest. Friends and relatives will send a wedding gift to the couple before or after, but never on, the wedding day. It is considered their personal gift to the new couple. Guests attending a traditional wedding reception in Japan are also expected to bring cash for a gift. The amount depends on their degree of closeness to the couple and the family. In traditional Japanese invitations, that relationship will be indicated on the invitation card. The average cash gift is 30,000 yen ($250) for a close friend's wedding, but gifts can run from $30 to $200. The money is placed into a special envelope, or Shugibukuro, and the guest ' s name is written on the front of the envelope. Envelopes, called iwaibukuro, can be purchased at Japanese supermarkets or grocery shops. The envelope is given to the greeter at the reception desk and is earmarked to help the new couple pay for wedding and reception costs. In recent years, bridal registries have become more commonplace in Japan, so guests may purchase merchandise from the bride and groom's registry list. At the end of the evening, the couple thanks all the guest for attending.


The average Japanese reception in Japan can run to several million yen ($20,000-$30,000), to as high as $100,000. The number of guest ranges from 50 to 200 people, on average. The scale of reception has begun to decline in Japan and couples are beginning to favor more simple weddings.

Today, only a third of couples in Japan marry in traditional Shinto style. Most blend the rituals of a Japanese wedding with modern Western culture. By melding the two, couples create a wedding that takes the best of both and creates their own unique day. That melding is also practiced successfully by couples in this country. []

Gender roles

In 1920s and 1930s, the rise in Japanese nationalism created the need for young soldiers, thereby giving rise to the imperial slogan of UMEYO! FUYASEYO! or give birth and multiply! The government applauded the role of the women as the mother and encouraged them to increase the progeny. In the meantime, Japanese women had also been campaigning for more rights, and the society had begun to accept a more autonomous existence for them, although the male bastion was far from penetrated as yet.

In the post war Japan, the occupation forces imposed a new constitution in 1947, which provided for equal rights for men and women regarding ownership or inheritance of property and participating in electoral process. The women were also given the right to divorce and retain custody of their children, rights that they have been deprived of till then. This process was carried further in 1986 by the Equal employment opportunity law. However, as the words of Kumiko Hashimoto suggest, in practice, equality is still a distant proposition.

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