Japan is a remarkable country with a rich, deep history and culture. For a period of 214 years, Japan was a closed country. This goes some way towards explaining our fascination with this intriguing archipelago. Whether you are planning a visit or just want to know more, here are some unique traditions in Japan that you may not know about.
7 Unique Traditions in Japan
1. Hanami (flower viewing)
The cherry blossom (桜, sakura) is the unofficial flower of Japan. The Japanese have celebrated this beautiful, delicate flower for centuries and is an important part of their culture. Cherry blossoms usually bloom between mid-March and early May and when they do, people celebrate with hanami. These parties with friends and family take place under the trees so their beauty can be admired and seen up close. Hanami celebrates the coming of spring as the flowers symbolise hope and new beginnings.
2. Kutsuwonugu (take off shoes)
In Japan, you do not wear outdoor shoes inside as it is considered rude and unclean. In Japanese culture, the outside is considered dirty, and the inside clean. It is therefore important not to transfer the outside inside. Upon entering someone’s home in Japan, you should remove your shoes and leave them on a little porch. This area acts as a space between the outer and inner worlds. Your host will usually provide you with slippers to wear inside the house.
3. Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (Kentucky for Christmas)
For a finger-lickin’ good Christmas Eve, do what the Japanese do and order KFC. There is no tradition of Christmas in Japan, turkeys are hard to find and ovens in Japanese kitchens are too small to cook one. Chicken, however, is a good substitute. A marketing manager of KFC in Japan realised this and came up with the marketing strategy of ‘Kentucky for Christmas’. And it took off. An estimated 3.6 million Japanese families tuck into KFC every Christmas. But these aren’t just your regular bargain buckets. The KFC Christmas buckets are full meals filled with whole-roasted chicken, sides, cake and wine.
4. Sumo Harae
Before a wrestling match, Sumos toss salt high into the air in a traditional related to harae, the rituals of purification in Shinto. It is also performed as an exorcism to drive bad spirits out of the shrine. Some sumo wrestlers are very dramatic when they throw the salt and put on a bit of show as they toss it towards the ceiling.
In Japan, people greet each other by bowing. Bows vary from a simple nod of the head to a complete bend of the waist. Slights bows are used when you greet a friend. They are casual and informal. A long, deep bow is used to show respect. People also bow to say thanks, to apologise and make a request or ask someone a favour.
6. Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day)
In Japan, you are an adult when you turn 20 years old. This milestone birthday is celebrated on the second Monday of January with a ceremony called seijin no hi which has speeches and performances. This is a ‘coming of age day’ or ‘adult’s day’ and Japanese adults receive an official letter from the government. For the ceremony, women wear a special kimono and many men can opt to wear traditional hakama (loose trousers) and haori jackets.
7. Hatsuhinode (First Sunrise of the Year)
Waking up to see the first sunrise of the year (hatsuhinode) is an important unique tradition in Japan. On New Year’s Day, Japanese families rise early and head to a shrine, beach or mountaintop to watch the first sunrise. Japanese people consider watching the sunrise good luck for the year ahead and Toshigami who is a god of the New Year rises with the sun.