You might be preparing a trip to Japan or simply be passionate about the Country of the Rising Sun, what is certain is that Japan will always surprise you.
Did you know that Japanese was the 9th most spoken language in the world? The native tongue of almost 130 million people counts no less than 3 different alphabets: hiragana, katakana and kanji.
While learning Japanese will be absolutely necessary if you intend to be living in Japan, just knowing a few words and maybe sentences will be more than enough if you are just going there as a tourist.
Let’s go and find out more about the Japanese literature classics, the delicacies of the country or its best-animated movies.
Start reading: Japanese literature is just as rich as its Western counterparts and you’ll never run out of Japanese reading material (by risaikeda).
Japan, mostly known for its manga and maybe its haikus (short poems), has long been overlooked when it came to it literary scene.
Often shadowed by British, French and American great writers, Japan only received two Nobel Prices of Literature since 1901 (11 for the U.K.).
Nonetheless, Japanese novels are absolutely worth a read. Japanese writing style is known for focusing on action and adventure rather than lengthy descriptions.
Japanese writers also often convey a critical message on the social state of our modern societies while developing complex characters and interesting plots.
In the U.K., and because of the difficulty to translate the Japanese language, only the best novels or short stories make it to your bookstores, pre-screening for you the best of the best.
A few examples of those are:
Also check, Kafka on the shore, Seventeen, Norwegian Wood or The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.
Japanese novels will bring you to a whole new world and quickly you will most likely read all Murakami’s book.
Books are not the only thing you can eagerly devour in Japan, the food there is great too!
The History of Japan is also the History of washoku, the traditional Japanese cuisine. Despite the Japanese food wave and crave that arrived in the U.K. through the U.S., for a long time in Europe, Japanese food has been reduced to sushi. But it’s much more than that.
The precision, passion and craft that Japanese chefs put in every dishes is something no short of art. It is probably for that reason and because of it historically rich past that traditional Japanese food has been on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2013.
The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest on the planet with a perfect balance of fish, vegetables, soups and rice.
A classic Japanese meal is traditionally made of one soup and three dishes. Those dishes are often seasoned with soya sauce and wasabi.
A chef cooking some delicious takoyaki. A time-consuming job as each of the balls has to be manually turned (by Nam2@7676).
Here are the 10 Japanese dishes you must try:
The front of a Fugu restaurant in the area of Shibuya in Tokyo. The famous blow-fish is a delicacy in Japan despite it’s its toxicity if ill-prepared (by istolethetv).
If going through Kyoto, the former Imperial capital, do not miss on trying Kaiseki ryori, this multi-course meal that embodies the perfection Japanese chefs are always seeking.
If you like street food and the smells of tasty dishes in the air, head to Fukuoka on the Kyushu island, the city is famed for its many street vendors.
Sake and tea are also a central part of the Japanese food culture and one’s experience of Japan would not be complete without assisting to a tea ceremony.
But many more dishes should be on your list. Each region or even city will have a speciality or a variant of a traditional dish, which makes it impossible, to sum up Japanese cuisine and maybe impossible to try every Japanese dishes, but you can always try. One thing is for sure: you will never go hungry between two sightseeing sessions.
Despite the American occupation following the war and the assimilation of parts of the American culture by Japanese people, the country’s food cuisine is more popular than ever and the equivalent of fast food for a Japanese person would be some yummy soba.
Tips: in Japan eating while walking in public is considered bad etiquette and should be avoided. Same goes for eating in sacred places such as Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples. Exceptions are festivals.
In the traditional society that Japan is, tattoos are frown upon maybe more than anywhere else in the world.
Originally used as a punishment, tattoos were for a very long time the mark of the yakuza (Japanese mobsters) who would proudly wear them.
Yakuza men parading during the Sanja Matsuri, one of the most popular festivals in Tokyo (by Ari Helminen).
Outlawed after the Meiji restoration, tattoos were legalised again after World War II but more recently a court ruling made it mandatory for Japanese tattoo artists to possess a medical licence to perform their trade. Obviously, the ruling was appealed and the final verdict is still expected.
Traditional Japanese tattoo is called irezumi and usually cover parts of the body (arms, back, legs) or in its entirety.
This tattooing style, mainly influenced by Chinese woodblock prints, can be costly. Because of the use of bamboo needles rather than electrical tattoo gun, the process is quite long and more painful than modern tattoos. Some of these traditional tattoos are said to have cost up to £25,000.
Even finding a traditional tattoo artist may prove daunting and having a few Japanese (tattooed) friends will come in handy.
Many motives have a specific meaning:
The younger generation is growing more appreciative of the art of tattooing and breaking away from the strict traditional taboo and stereotypes that was involved with tattoos. The culture of Japan is changing, at its own pace.
If you fancy learning Japanese, watching animation movies or anime will probably be the most entertaining way to do it.
On top of its extensive pop-culture, video games, martial arts and much more, the animation movies are a big part of Japanese culture.
Even if you’re not a fan of the classic American animation movies, their Japanese equivalent are often aimed at a more adult crowd.
Some of their best work includes :
Director Miyazaki Hayao at the San Diego Com-icon 2009 where he presented his movie Ponyo.
The work of Miyazaki is often politically engaged, and his movies are characterized by themes such as pacifism, environmentalism, love and family. The central spot that the Japanese women have in his work let transpire a deep feminism, a rare thing in Japanese culture. The plots of his movies are also known to go beyond the hero versus villain narrative.
Miyazaki might be one of the most famous animation movie directors in Japan, but his work is only a small part of what this industry has to offer. If you would like to complete your Japanese culture knowledge, or maybe improve your language skills, these are some of the best animations movies you could watch:
Mangas, the Japanese comic books, are often the origin of many animation movies and is also an excellent way to discover Japan’s vast culture.
Manga is so popular in Japan that you will find many Manga cafes all dotted all around the big cities. Pick you manga, order a coffee, stay all day (by nuncloid).
We only mentioned a few aspects of Japanese culture and arts but the country has much more to offer. Just walking down the street in Japan is an experience in itself.
Should you make your way to the Land of the Rising Sun, do not forget to visit some amazing sites such as Osaka’s Castle or take a dip in its many traditional hot spring baths, the famous onsens.
Japanese youth isn’t shy when it comes to dressing up. Young people cosplaying (costume playing) is a frequent sight in the streets of Tokyo (by istolethetv).
But as you travel through the biggest cities in the country, you will quickly realise that Japanese society is very codified and to know a bit about Japan’s traditions and culture will help you navigate these codes much more easily and make your trip even better. Avoiding the culture shock is always best.