Japanese Culture and Tradition

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Japan pronounced in Japanese as “Nippon” or “Nihon,” is a Pacific Ocean island nation off the coast of mainland Asia. The name Japan has given by a European explorer Marco Polo. From economic booms to recessions, back to economic booms, Japan is a country with both deep-rooted traditions and social practices. It is a country that very heavily influenced by tradition as well.

The communication styles of japan can be confusing to others. Throughout the long history of Japan; the Japanese have cultivated their unique communication styles which are based on their high-context, collectivistic and almost homogeneous society. They are reported to be reserved, cautious, indirect, silent and ambiguous. They give importance on not hurting others and keeping harmonious relations with each other. This all aspects have influenced on their business practice as well.


Japan has a very long, unique with many cultural dimensions history. Japan known as one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is a country in East Asia. It is a group of many islands close to the east coast of Korea, China and Russia. According to “Wikipedia” it is comprised of approximately 6,900 islands. The most prominent and populated islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu, making up 97% of the country. Most people in Japan live on one of four of the islands. The biggest of these islands, Honshu, has the most people. Honshu is the 7th largest island in the world. Tokyo is the capital of Japan and its biggest city.

According to Wikipedia and records from the Chinese documentary there were many small countries in Japan. They had war between them and later on they were ruled by a queen named “Himiko” which lead them to being united. Himiko or Pimiko was a shamaness-queen of Yamatai-koku in Wakoku. She was known as the first queen who unified others, and brought peace in the place. Japanese taught by their neighbors Korea and China about the Chinese writing system which help them to write their own history. Buddhism practice also adopted from the China and the Korea as well. Buddhism was introduced from China in the mid-6th century and the temples at Nara became a power in the land.

The arrival of the Europeans in 16th century to japan had brought many changes including cultural aspects, Christianity and many more. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit Japan. Later, the Spanish, English and Dutch came to Japan to trade. On that time many countries were conquered by the Europeans and that scared the Japanese, as a result the Japanese did not let the Europeans come into Japan anymore, except in a small area in Nagasaki city. Only the Chinese, Korean and Dutch people were allowed to visit Japan, in the end, and they were under careful control of the Japanese government. Japan was closed to the world for 217 years. From 1635 to 1852 Japan had a little contact with the world. They established a law known as the Sakoku Edict that restricted trade, banned foreign travel by Japanese, banned Christianity and made Japan off limits to most foreigners. Japan was opened for visitors again in 1854 by Commodore Matthew Perry, when the Americans wanted to use Japanese ports for American whale boats. The American Navy effectively forced Japan to open her market.

The new connection with the Europeans and Americans changed the Japanese culture. The Meiji Revolution of 1868 had added many new editions into Japanese culture. On that time the empire of Japan was created which became a very powerful nation and started to attack the countries next to it. Japan invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom, Taiwan and then Korea. During that time Japan was involved in many wars with China and Russia. Some notable wars are the First Sino-Japanese War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Russo-Japanese War, and the Second Sino-Japanese War, which grew to become a part of World War II when Japan became allies with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Japan’s attack to Pearl Harbor brought with a big change in their culture, character and nature as they defeated by the Americans in 1945.


Japan has now become a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity as is observed in all aspects of everyday life. There is some unchanging concepts like “loss of face”, group oriented, group harmony philosophy and some other cultural etiquettes. But the hierarchy of status and age is still important, with every person having his or her own place within the group.

Present Japanese culture is totally different from the past. Early Japanese culture was influenced by the Chinese and Koreans. On that time Japan was totally isolated and closed for all other countries. After the fall of era in 1868, Japan started to adopt cultural practices from all over the world and established a new cultural practice along with the older one. Over the years, Western culture has influenced all aspects of Japanese culture including art, technology, lifestyle and food.


Japanese is language spoken in Japan and also called Nihon-go in Japanese. The Japanese language is written with a combination of three different types of scripts: Chinese characters, kanji, and two syllabic scripts, hiragana and katakana.

Kanji: Historically Japanese didn’t have any written system. Later kanji was imported from China. It is the Japanese variation of Chinese characters which show the meaning of Japanese words. Japanese people used this Chinese grammar and sentences for a while. Because of having the differences in the language and grammar; it was very inconvenient for the Japanese to record their thoughts this way. So Japanese began to twist the Chinese language by changing the word order and inserting some particles to make the sentences more Japanese. Kanji are basically used for writing nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs. But unlike the Chinese language, Japanese cannot be written entirely in kanji. For grammatical endings and words without corresponding kanji, two additional syllable based scripts are being used.

Hiragana and Katakana: Around the 9th century, the Japanese developed their own writing system based on syllables: Hiragana and katakana, together it called Kana system. Of the two kana systems, hiragana is more cursive while katakana characters are more angular. All Japanese students are first taught how to write Hiragana at school as they are the basic component of the Japanese language. It is possible to write a Japanese article in Hiragana only.

Romaji: Romaji is for transcribing people’s names, places’ names and writing words such as “DVD”, Email, Japanese personal names, corporate brands, and other words intended for international use like on business cards, in passports, etc.

Social foundations of Japanese communication styles

Practicing the collectivistic culture where individuals often perceive themselves to be members of “groups” rather than separate actors. These groups come to define who its members are and often indirectly demand a high degree of loyalty. In return, an individual gains a sense of belonging, protection and unity. Sharing a common tradition, history, culture and identity, people in Japan broadly anticipate their perceptions to be consistent with the other Japanese people around them. In this communication-passive society of Japan, modest, humility and suppression self are considered to be moral ideals and people are rather unwilling to disclose their true feelings. Body language and physical behavior body motion, as a whole is more reserved in japan then in the west.

General communication styles can be divided into verbal and non-verbal communication styles.


Indirect Communication: The Japanese communication pattern is very indirect. They depends less on words to express situation and are more focused to the posture, expression and tone of voice of the speaker to draw meaning from a conversation.

Refusals: The cultural preoccupation with saving face and being polite means that the Japanese may wish to avoid giving a flat “no” or negative response-even when they don’t agree.

Laughter: When sharing bad news, a Japanese person may smile and laugh to diffuse the uncomfortable situation. People may also cover their mouth when they giggle. It is rare to see big bursts of laughter with corresponding gestures.


Physical Contact: The acceptance of physical contact varies depending on the context in Japan. Japanese people always maintain the physical distance with others.

Body Language: The Japanese do not gesture very much while speaking as their body language is largely restrained. Instead, they often hold their hands together as they speak which prevents them from gesturing throughout conversation.

Eye Contact: The Japanese avoid eye contact with strangers as it is considered rude to stare.

Facial Expressions: It is common for Japanese people to maintain a calm expression and smile during an interaction regardless of the topic. This evidently differs between personalities, but a modest, reserved behavior is polite. Furthermore, consider that whilst smiling can indicate happiness, it is sometimes used in an attempt to cover awkwardness or sadness.

Nodding: Japanese people often nod to acknowledge what is said. However, this does not always mean they agree or understand. It is primarily a gesture made out of politeness.

Feet: Displaying the soles is considered rude.

Inhaling: When a Japanese person inhales air through their teeth, it usually implies disagreement.

Silence: Silence is an important and purposeful tool used in Asian communication. Pausing before giving a response indicates that someone has applied appropriate thought and consideration to the question. This reflects politeness and respect.

Beckoning: It is impolite to beckon people who you are not close friends with. Beckoning is done by facing the palm of the hand to the ground and waving one’s fingers towards oneself. Individual fingers should not be used.

Pointing: Pointing is done using the entire hand unless referring to oneself, in which case they place their index finger on their nose.

Waving: Shaking the hand with the palm facing forward from side to side means “no”.

Gestures: A Japanese person may clasp their hands together in front of their chest when apologizing or accepting something. This expresses gratitude and respect.

Bowing: It’s a sign or gesture of greetings. Bowing in a proper way is very much important for the Japanese.

Some other communication style that Japanese follow:

  • The Japanese rely on facial expression, tone of voice and posture to tell them what someone feels.
  • The context in which something is said affects the meaning of the words. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the situation to fully appreciate the response.
  • Frowning while someone is speaking is interpreted as a sign of disagreement.
  • Most Japanese maintain an impassive expression when speaking.
  • In crowded situations the Japanese avoid eye contact to give themselves privacy.
  • The Japanese believe that turning down someone’s request causes embarrassment and loss of face to the other person.
  • If the request cannot be agreed to, they will say, “it’s inconvenient” or “it’s under consideration”.
  • They do not openly criticize, insult, or put anyone on-the-spot
  • The Japanese prefer to have some distance, at least arms-length in their personal space.


Cite this paper

Japanese Culture and Tradition. (2020, Sep 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/japanese-culture-and-tradition/

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