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9 Fascinating Insights into Japanese Culture


Does Japanese culture fascinate you?

Exploring what people in a country do, or how they behave, is a great way of learning more about their culture and society. 

With this in mind, let's learn more about Japanese culture by looking at 9 fascinating insights into the Japanese way of life.




Did you know?

Japan has one of the most complex business cultures in the world?

According to The Business Culture Complexity Index™ League Table 2019, out of the top 50 economies in the world, Japan has the 24th most complex business culture.

Some of these examples we’re about to look at can help us understand why!

1. No Street Names

A fascinating insight into how the Japanese see space around them is in their address system.

japan streets

Whereas in much of the world people see the streets as being the important spaces, and therefore having names or numbers, in Japan its actually the space between the streets that is prioritized.

That’s why in Japan you don’t have street names; you have blocks and within blocks you have building numbers. And if you think the building numbers are in order, well, you’re wrong – buildings are numbered according to the sequence in which they were built!

2. Nominication

The Japanese are well-known for being very polite and indirect in their communication style.

colleagues nominication japan

At work, it’s difficult for people to express their opinions and feelings openly. Especially when it comes to anything negative, the Japanese hold back. For them its all about social harmony.

In order to get around this, the Japanese have created a fascinating way for colleagues to feel at ease and to share feelings or opinions without fear – nominication.

Essentially, nominication is about going to a bar or restaurant as a team, getting drunk and speaking your mind!

3. Nemawashi

Japanese culture is group orientated and collectivist.

nemawashi process

A fascinating result of this is that they have, over centuries, created a consensus building process as a means of bringing about change.

Nemawashi involves workers with an idea to create consensus at peer level before taking up the chain of command. It’s been designed to allow for ideas to flow upwards without causing loss of face or disrespecting hierarchies.

4. Saying 'Bye'

In Japanese culture a customer or client is treated with the utmost respect.

japanese store staff bowing

When customers or visitors leave a work premises or restaurant, it's not surpising to see whole teams of staff follow them to the door and then bow until they have left.

Even it if at an elevator, employees may well stay bowing until the doors have closed. Saying 'bye' is a bit of an art in Japan.

5. Elevator Captain

In Japan, if you happen to be the first person into an elevator, you, by default, become the elevator captain!

Japan Elevators

It’s your job to stand close to the controls, hold the door open for people, press floor numbers and allow people to leave. When leaving the elevator at your floor, make sure you’re the last to leave.

Collective rights and responsibilities are very much a part of Japanese culture.

6. Itadakimasu!

Japanese culture is deeply rooted in Shinto beliefs and a connection with nature.

japanse kids eating

A fascinating expression of this is that the Japanese people say, "Itadakimasu!" before they eat a meal.

It's similar to a prayer, although not in the formal sense, and is their way of showing respect to the food and where it has come from.

7. Shoes off please

One thing all foreigners visiting Japan comment on is how clean and hygienic the Japanese are.

take off shoes japan

The Japanese are sticklers for detail and one thing they all do is remove their shoes in certain places.

When entering a home, temple, office, restaurant you’ll find shoe racks and slippers, indicating that shoes must come off.

8. Don’t pour yourself a drink

A fascinating aspect of Japanese etiquette is that people do not pour drinks for themselves.

pour beer japan

In a group setting, pouring yourself a drink is seen as bad manners.

You should pour for others and they should pour for you. If you don’t want to drink any more, then simply leave your glass full!

9. Blue traffic lights

Japanese traffic lights aren’t red, amber and green – they're red, amber and blue!

blue light japan

Well, actually that’s not quite true. Once upon a time they were blue. That’s because in the Japanese language there wasn’t actually a word for green, so they used blue instead.

Today however, as a nod to the original blue traffic lights, the Japanese use the bluest shade of green they can.

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You may also be interested in the following blogs: 

Cultural Tips on Export to Japan and China 

Japanese Cultural Values and their Impact on Business

The Importance of Apologies in Japanese Culture 


Mianzi – The Concept of Face in Chinese Culture
Safeguarding Expatriate Employees Moving Abroad

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