The timeless allure of Japanese culture

From tea ceremonies to flower arranging, here are some of the most interesting cultural traditions and experiences not to be missed while in Japan

By Kushmita Bose

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Asian woman wearing kimono with cherry blossoms, sakura in Japan.
Asian woman wearing kimono with cherry blossoms, sakura in Japan.

Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 12:58 PM

Japanese culture holds significance in blending both ancient and contemporary beliefs, traditions, and customs. There is an art, reason, and historical purpose to explain how things are conducted in families and society. This is part of what makes it such a fascinating country to visit. If you are looking for something different you are sure to find it here!

Bowing

Japanese people place a high value on politeness and are extremely proud of their international image as being humble.  You've probably heard of the old Japanese tradition of bowing as a greeting, which dates back to Japan’s ancient history. This old custom has persisted in contemporary. Japan, where bowing is performed when you are saying hello and goodbye, thanking someone, apologising, congratulating, and asking for a favour. It is considered impolite not to return a bow to the person that has bowed to you. If you would like to earn some brownie points on your trip to Japan, perform a bow when you are engaging with a local, such as restaurant staff.

Kimono

When thinking of Japanese culture, a Kimono is probably one of the things that first come to mind Many locals still enjoy wearing traditional clothes for special occasions, including graduation, weddings, and festivals.

KYOTO - MAY 15 : Participants in Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto, Japan. Aoi Mastsuri is one of the three main annual festivals held in Kyoto. — File photo
KYOTO - MAY 15 : Participants in Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto, Japan. Aoi Mastsuri is one of the three main annual festivals held in Kyoto. — File photo

Matsuri – Traditional Festivals

Japan is home to a myriad of traditional festivals, known as Matsuri, celebrated throughout the year. These festivals vary in theme and purpose, ranging from religious ceremonies to harvest celebrations. Notable examples include Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, each with its unique cultural significance, traditional costumes, and vibrant performances that showcase the diversity of Japan's cultural landscape.

Temples and Shrines

Temples and shrines make up a huge part of Japanese culture as sacred places for worship. They are marked with the stunning architecture of tori gates and altars. Japan boasts a vast network of these sacred sites, with more than 150,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines spread across the country.

Cherry Blossoms

Spring isn’t only a wonderful time to visit Japan, but it’s also widely known as the season when Sakura trees are in full bloom. One of the most iconic and beloved traditions in Japan is the custom of enjoying the transient beauty of cherry blossoms. Every spring, when cherry trees bloom in resplendent shades of pink and white, people gather in parks for picnics, music, and dance — a thousand-year-old tradition called hanami.

Fisherman in Mitake Valley, Japan.
Fisherman in Mitake Valley, Japan.

Onsens

According to the Shinto religion, the waters of Japan's natural hot springs (onsens), are considered to be healing waters with the power to cleanse and purify the soul. This conviction has integrated the act of bathing in hot springs into the fabric of Japanese culture. Onsens are dispersed across the country, with Hokkaido having the most onsen facilities in the country.

High rank sumo wrestlers line up with crowd in the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. — File photo
High rank sumo wrestlers line up with crowd in the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. — File photo

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling is not just a sport in Japan; it is a cultural phenomenon deeply rooted in Shinto rituals. Dating back over a millennium, sumo combines athleticism with Shinto practices, and the wrestlers, known as ‘rikishi’, follow strict rituals and traditions, such as the symbolic purification of the ring before each match. Sumo tournaments draw large crowds, and the sport remains an integral part of Japan's cultural fabric.

The woman who does flower arrangement.
The woman who does flower arrangement.

The Art of Flower Arrangement

Ikebana is more than just flower arranging. The Japanese people view it as an important religious art form. Although it's been around for seven centuries, it continues to be practiced today. There are about 3,000 ikebana schools in Japan. Each school underscores the significance of simplicity, harmony, and a deep connection with nature.

Japanese tea ceremony
Japanese tea ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The traditional tea ceremony holds profound cultural and ritual significance for the Japanese, requiring years of dedication for a host or hostess to master. Rooted in Zen Buddhism, the ceremony places a strong emphasis on living in the moment. A formal tea ceremony typically extends over four hours, commencing with guests purifying themselves by washing their hands and mouths before entering the tea room to symbolise purification.

They are served a simple meal, two servings of tea, and sweets. Conversation is centered on the utensils and decoration used in the ceremony.

— kushmita@khaleejtimes.com


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