Everything You Need To Know About Japanese Culture + History

Written byIchika Yamamoto

Japanese culture has been developing since 14,000 BC, which is the start of the prehistoric Jomon period.

When Japan is mentioned, one always imagines beautiful nature, tea ceremonies, and rich theatrical traditions, Ikebana (traditional way of flower arrangement), Origami, Calligraphy, poetry, fascinating gardens, kimonos, sushi and all those unique social customs.

Basically, all Japanese culture is motivated by the desire for harmony and consonance with nature. One can notice it starting with fragile poems through architecture up to the designing of household utilities.

Japanese art is characterised by the sense of detail, sophistication and modesty. While other Asian countries prefer flamboyance regarding artistic interpretation, Japanese rather tent to simplicity and figuration of unrepeatability of a moment.

Japanese culture has been under the strong influence of Japan since its beginning. Tea, Chinese characters, bonsai, architecture of temples of Buddhism got to Japan right from this country. The influence of Japan and other countries were mostly visible in the 15th and 16th centuries, after that, Japan isolated itself from the surrounding world. From that time, the culture developed in its own way.

This culture isolation lasted until 1867 when Emperor Meiji began his reign. He decided to reform his country and he introduced revolutionary changes regarding legal actions, economy, and status of women as well as culture.

After World War II, Japan had to settle with the U.S. cultural invasion, that has influenced many cultural aspects as well as common life. In spite of that, one can notice traditional Japanese culture not only in galleries and concert halls, but also and especially in everyday life.

Holidays and Traditions

Japan is home to many traditions. Its citizens celebrate many holidays, which have mostly a religious origin. If a state holiday coincides with Sunday, it is moved to Monday according to the state holiday law. Summer holidays are held from mid-July to the end of September so all schools are closed. Buddhist holidays are held on the 14th and 15th of July. Although these days are not stated as days off, many Japanese spend their holidays during this time. Among state holidays belong:

  • 1st of January Ganjitsu New Year
  • 2nd Sunday in January Seijin-no-hi Adult's Day (celebrations for girls and boys who reach 20 years old)
  • 11th of February KenkokuKinem-bi National Foundation Day.
  • 20th or 21st of March Shumbun-no-hi spring equinox
  • 29th of April Midori-no-hi Green Day
  • 3rd of May Kemp\F3-Kinem-bi Constitution Day
  • 5th of May Kodomo-no- hi Children's Day
  • 20th of June Umi-no-hi Day of the Sea
  • 15th of September Keir\F3-no-hi Day of Respect to the Old Age
  • 23rd or 24th of September Shubun-no-hi autumn equinox
  • 2nd Monday in October Taiiku-no-hi Day of Sport
  • 3rd of November Bunka-no-hi Day of Culture
  • 23rd of November Kinr\F3Kansha-no-hi Thanksgiving to Work Day
  • 23rd of December Tenn\F3Tanj\F3bi - emperor's birthday

Japan has a large number of festivals and ceremonial celebrations. The festivals are mostly of Shinto origin and are related to seasonal cultivation and harvest of rise. The celebrations are linked to Buddhist holidays undertaken from Japan or the West such as St. Valentine Day. The 3rd or the 4th of February Setsubun a celebration of winter's end and ejection of evil demons. February to April Hanami (Flowers View) celebrations of time when trees blossom (plums in February, peaches in March and cherries in April). The 3rd of March HinaMatsuri (Doll Festival) during the festival old dolls are exhibited and young girls are given special dolls that represent a certain person from the antique Emperor's court. From the 29th of April to the 5th of May Golden week during the week, 3 state holidays are celebrated, i. e. Green Day, Constitution Day and Children's Day. That's why many companies give days off to their employees. The 7th of July TanabataMatsuri (Stars Holiday) 2 stars Vega and Altair are crossing their ways on Milky Way at the night.Accordingly old legend (originally Chinese), a princess in love with a shepherd was prohibited to meet him. Only during the day, when ways of the both stars was crossed, the lovers could meet up. From the 13th to the 16th of July and August OBon (Day of the Death) according to Buddhist tradition, the death returns to the land. Candles and lamps are lighted and are carried away by a river or the sea in order to show the way to the death. During holidays everybody returns to his/her birth villages. The 15th of November Shichi-Go-San this day celebrates girls who reach 3 or 7 years of age as well as boys who reach 7 years of age. These children are taken to temples or sanctuaries to be blessed with good luck.

Temples and Shinres

Main Japanese religions are Buddhism and Shintoism. There are some Christians as well, but not in a large number. Japanese see faith from a different point of view than European. They don\B4t have any problem to believe in Buddhism and Shintoism at the same time as they think that Buddhism is concerned with death while Shintoism is more related to common life. Both religions have left colourful temples and shrines all around the country. Temples are Buddhist sanctuaries while shrines are reserved to Shintoism.


Shintoism is a typical Japanese religion, which has been based on prehistoric respect to natural powers and phenomena, when people began to worship places connected to nature (for example, trees, rivers and stones). Eventually, personalized noble spirits appeared. This changed Shintoism into a polytheist religion. The spirits are known under the name of kami". The number of kami is basically unlimited and it is possible to find them in mythology, nature or human beings. Japanese turn to them with either thanks or pleas.

All of these mean that this religion doesn't have any founder, sacred book, etc. Although, it has its own behaviour rules of in its shrines: they include steps such as washing hands and mouth with water when entering a shrine. A silver mirror is placed inside the main building of a shrine where one can see a reflexion of his/her divine soul. Everyone can make offerings in a form of money or a bit of rice. Then everybody bows twice, claps twice and then bows once again. During the offering it is common to wish for something.

This religion lost its privileged position with the arrival of Buddhism in the 6th century; however, both religions began to be practised together soon after.


Buddhism probably arrived in Japan in 522 during the Nara period. It was brought here from Korea. The first reaction of local people was embarrassment; however two centuries later, during the reign of the emperor Shom (724-749), Buddhism enjoyed its prosperity. Two Buddhist schools, Tendai and Shingon, were developed since the 9th century. Both schools are considered as the favourite ones until nowadays. Other favourite teachings are also Zen, the School of the Clean Land and monk Nichiren's teaching (or the Nichiren's School).


Zen means meditation. Whereas, Christian concept is about salvation (fulfilment) Zen-Buddhism is about getting one's mind empty and stopping the flow of thoughts. If misleading illusions and hallucinations in form of fear, stress and worries don't have any material essence (likewise mist), everything will disappear as long as we don\B4t focused on it. A man will find inner peace by liberation from external forms.


Christianism, especially its Catholic form, began to be spread over Japan from the 16th to the 17th centuries. A Jesuit missionary - St. Francis Xavier - was one of its first teachers there. Firstly, Christianism spread quickly; however, later government decided to limit it. Later on, they asserted a strict isolation from the Western world. Christianism passed its rehabilitation in Japan during the 19th century. However, it waited to see its full liberation after a defeat of Japanese during the World War II. The Christian influence has never been too strong there though. Most Japanese Christians belong to Protestantism.

The most important temples and shrines Meiji Jingu:

It is one the most famous Shintoist shrines placed in Tokyo. The shrine is devoted to the divine souls of the Japanese Emperor Meiji and his wife Shoken. Within the life of the emperor (1850-1912), Japan opened itself to the surrounding world and established a modern industrial society. When the emperor passed away, people wanted to pay him tribute, in spite of the fact that he was buried in Kyoto. For that reason, they donated 100 thousand of noble trees collected in the whole country in order to construct a 70 hectare complex in 1920. A forest covers most of the complex laying in the centre of Tokyo.

During World War II, the shrine was destroyed. Nevertheless, it was renewed soon after in accordance with his original image. Its traditional wooden entrance called torii is the biggest in all Japan.

Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion): The Golden Pavilion is a part of a Buddhist temple laying in the North-East direction of the city of Kyoto. The temple is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, which helps to create one of the most impressive monuments in Japan. Originally, a villa was located there, which was bought by the shogun Joshimica Ashikaga in 1397. Before he reached 40 years of age, he left politics in order to devote his life to religious meditation. Later, his son turned all this building into the Zen-Buddhist temple. The temple had lasted many centuries until 1950 when the Golden Pavilion burned down. It was burned by a psychically sick monk, who fell in love with the pavilion so that he wanted to pass away along with it. Nevertheless, he ran away when he saw the fire. Later on, he was caught by the police. Only basics remain from the building. Five years later, its exact replica was erected and later covered with gold in the late 80's. The Golden Pavilion is a part of the UNESCO heritage.

The Geisha

The word Geisha (芸者) comes from Japanese. Gei means art and sha means presence or company, consequently; the whole word means art of presence or company of an artist. A geisha is in charge of the entertainment of men in public by means of dancing, singing and brilliant conversation. A Geisha represents a typical and inseparable symbol of Japan.

In the beginning, geishas were men. First geisha-women appeared in 1751. Fifty years later this work was exclusively in hands of women. Her customers have been mainly the richest men in Japan. Nowadays, mostly politicians, businessmen and big bosses are frequent customers. They have been considered as an image of women's perfection and personification of Japanese culture, lifestyle and a living artwork.

To become a geisha is not easy and it supposes to manage many exacting skills. Education of a future geisha begins in babyhood, sometimes 5 years of age. Since then, little girls are taught to dance, sing, speak in a pleasant way, as well as study the art of ceremonial tea, traditional way or arranging flowers (Ikebana), calligraphy and other traditional Japanese arts. Firstly, girls become apprentices, who are called Hangyoku in Tokyo andMaik\F3 (a dancing girl) in Kyoto. After sometime learning, they can become right geishas.

Education of geishas takes many years and it is connected to great abnegation and effort. That's why, nowadays, not many Japanese girls are willing to undergo this.

To see a geisha in a street is almost impossible. If it happens, it mostly goes about dressed-up Japanese schoolgirls who let tourists take them photos. A bill for the company of a geisha reaches around a million yens (around 13 thousand USD) in case of the presence of 5 guests. Geishas have been hired for important business meetings too, as their presence can varnish a business company and create a good feeling. A geisha represents a man's success. Geishas are confidents to men as well as friends.

Japanese clothing

Modern clothes as well as traditional clothing are worn in today's Japan. As modern clothes belong to the Western world style, here we will describe the traditional way of clothing.

Whenever Japan is mentioned, many people will imagine a geisha. A geisha apprentice can be recognized according to her richly decorated kimono with an expressive belt called obi and a red ribbon in her hair. Kimonos, which are worn by geishas, have always been very precious and appear as an artwork. A geisha is recognizable from other people who dress kimono at first sight for a bundle of her obi tight in the back side. The bundle is tight in very complicated way. That's why; geishas usually have their dress helper. While many people tight their bundles by themselves, namely in the front side.

There are many types of kimonos in Japan that serve for different social occasions. White socks called tabi are used in a combination with kimono. In present time, many young people went back to using kimonos, especially its simplest types.

Japanese Employment

Japanese companies normally offer high quality pension plans and also offer a life-long career plan, especially to management profile workers. Project manager is probably the most successful job. This japanese management position is based around the principle of group harmony.

However, it is difficult to obtain because businessmen should demonstrate many skills in the resume. You must do the same. Downloading a well-written project manager resume sample and using it you've made great strides in the resume writing process.

Japanese Food

Learn to make Japanese food thanks to our recipes with a great explanation of any thing that can be difficult to understand.

Japanese Literature

Due to historic, geographic and generational diversity, Japanese literature has known a great number of influences and it is very diverse.

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Author: Ichika Yamamoto
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