Japanese Culture and Traditions: A Blend of Many Cultures in Japan

The cross section in Shibuya, Tokyo at night, which is very popular especially among people coming from overseas

Christmas and Halloween in Japan

If asked to say the best word to express the Japanese culture, I would say it should be “adaptation.” I believe we Japanese people are very good at cream-skimming in culture. Let me give you an interesting example. Do you know the percentage of the Christian population in Japan? It’s only 1 percent. Even in such a country, Christmas is a huge event. Almost all the Japanese peope go on a spree from some weeks before Christmas. The economic effect amounts to about 6.5 billion USD! That of Halloween is also hiking up to more than 1 billion USD. As some of you may have seen it on the news, many Japanese young people dress up in disguise and go crazy in Tokyo on Halloween night these days.

From beef to Wagyu

Japanese people sometimes absorb and evolve foreign cultures into our owns independently. A good example is “Wagyu,” Japanese marbled beef. In Japan, eating meat had been officially prohibited for about 1200 years since 675. People started eating meat since the opening of Japan in 1854. Since then, Japanese people’s tastes seem to evolve differently. Probably, we come to like fatty meat more and more. The average fat percentage of beef sold in Japan was about 23% in 1988; about 69% in 2009. It has been tripled only for 20 years!

Wagyu, Japanese beef on the rattan tray

Even Shogun sat on the floor

Another good example is the culture of sitting on a chair. Believe it or not, we just started to use chairs only recently, later than starting to eat meat. About 2000 years ago, chairs were already introduced from China, together with Kanji letters, but they didn’t seem to be embedded into the Japanese culture for some reason. Even Shogun (top samurai commanders) sat on the floor as shown in the image below.

Japanese high-skill woodworking

The history of chair manufacturing is short. It’s only about 150 years, but Japan has a long history of woodworking. The high skills can be seen in many old wooden temples more than 1000 years old. The high-skill woodworking developed over many years has evolved chairs into unique ones independently. I hope you will like them, the same as Wagyu meat.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.