Over the last hundred years or so, Eastern traditions and beliefs have made their way into Western societies, and that includes the rich and ancient culture of Japan. And even though sushi, sashimi and pusheen cats are trendy items from Japanese culture, there is so much more to learn from this Eastern island. So, come travel to Japan with us and broaden your life perspective.
Strong work ethic
You’ve probably heard about the strong work ethic of Japanese individuals. And perhaps this little Japanese phrase speaks volumes about their work ethic:
O Tsukaresama Desu roughly translated means, “I humbly exalt you in your state of exhaustion.” Just the fact that such a phrase exists tells us something about Japanese culture.
First of all, it’s a testament not only to hard workers – which many Japanese people are – but also to the fact that people respect and honor the hard work they do.
The collectivist culture
The Japanese culture is a collectivist culture. What this means is that personal gain comes second to community gain. Community can refer to your actual town or city, or more immediately to your family and friends.
Being late or having a general disregard for schedules can be acceptable in some European and South American cultures. But in Japan, being on time is a way to show respect to the collective whole. In Japanese culture, being punctual is a way to show that other people’s time is just as important and valuable as your own time.
Politeness often trumps honesty, especially in group settings, but this isn’t because people value dishonesty or deception. Instead, Japanese value politeness and respect. If you need to disagree, it’s better to do so privately and tactfully.
When it came to being polite, one writer identified three useful phrases to learn while living in Japan for one year. As she put it, these three words had “a lot more to do with being polite than with trying to get a practical task accomplished.”
What were the three phrases that were crucial to this writer’s Japanese experience?
- Arigatou, or thank you
- Women nasai, or sorry
- Daijobu desk, or it’s okay
Some might argue that Japanese people are fake and insincere since they’re so polite. However, international travelers conclude that these exchanges are actually quite genuine and just another way that Japanese people show respect to others.
Depending on where you’re from, it may or may not be common to say “Thank you” and “Sorry” all the time. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be more attentive to how your words and actions impact those around you.
Japan’s collectivist culture also influences how public spaces are treated and maintained. For example, in strongly individualistic societies, people often pass the blame and responsibility onto someone else for the litter, trash, graffiti or general tidiness.
In Japan, you will notice that public spaces, including public transportation, are kept clean, despite crowds of people.
Bowing is a frequent sign of respect among individuals, but it’s not a way to be weaker than someone else, or allow someone to take a dominant position. Instead, it’s a way of actively showing respect.
Bowing is done among friends, between a customer and a shop owner, between family members, and between business colleagues. Bowing shows respect, which you can see is a universal trait in the Japanese culture.
Respect for elderly people
In Western societies, it’s becoming more and more common for elderly people to be placed in institutional care until they die. But this is not the Japanese way of life. Older people are a welcomed part of Japanese society, and they’re often referred to as “Sensei” or teacher.
This suggests just how much they are valued for the wisdom and knowledge they’ve acquired in their many years.
A reason for living, or “ikigai”
There’s a concept within Japan called “ikigai”, and it basically translates to “a reason for living.” And Japanese people believe that each and every one of us has their own unique ikigai.
The best part is that it’s not a fixed thing that never changes. In fact, ikigai is something that accompanies us through life, changing and adapting to our different life situations. Adapting ikigai into your own life is a great way to find purpose in everything you do.
Respect for your living space
Removing your shoes before going inside
In Japanese societies, the indoor and outdoor space is distinct and different. And this is marked by their footwear etiquette, which people follow in their private homes and sometimes in historic buildings.
Before entering a home or historic building, you first enter a midway area called, genkan. There, you remove your outdoor shoes and slip on a pair of indoor shoes or slippers.
This etiquette might seem unnecessary, but it shows a respect and honor for your living space.
Enjoy the simple things in life
You’re probably already familiar with the famous cherry festivals that happen in Japan. It’s a glorious display of cherry blossoms in springtime, but it’s so much more. This cultural event, called O Hanami, draws Japanese people to the cherry trees, where they bask in the glory of Mother Nature.
Visitors describe it as a jam-packed experience, and isn’t it refreshing that so many people can be that excited about life’s simplest things?
Don’t worry, happy
“Sho ga nai” is a popular phrase in Japan and the rough translation means, “Don’t worry about the things you can’t control.” In other words, the one thing you can usually control is yourself, so just focus on changing your own behavior and thoughts, and don’t worry about the rest.
It’s a great way to reduce stress in your life. It’s also a good way to stop resisting everything and everyone that bothers you. Sho ga nai, and just focus on you.
Japan truly has so much to offer Western cultures and societies. And even if you never travel there in person, we hope this little excursion to Japan inspires you to explore their customs and traditions, and even find inspiration for your own life.
To learn more, you can read about Japanese culture from these books:
- Japan – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
- Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the Rules that Make the Difference! (Third Edition)
- The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture
- Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony