Japan is a country bursting with culture.
From sushi and sake... to hot springs, kimono dresses and cherry blossoms – you can feel the significance of Japanese cultural values as soon as you touch down in ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’.
Japan’s culture hugely affects the language, and vice versa. Which is why an understanding of Japanese etiquette and culture is crucial when learning Japanese. Once you know the Japanese cultural norms, you’ll be able to blend in with the locals and make the most of your time in Japan. Relax, we got you covered.
Fun Japanese culture facts to get you thinking like a local:
- Just one word of Japanese will get a great reaction from the locals. They love the effort!
- People follow traffic lights for pedestrians religiously even there’s no car coming your way.
- "Small face” (顔 小さいね / kao chiisai ne) and “tall nose” (鼻 高いね / hana takai neare) are considered as compliments, so don’t get offended!
- Locals rarely wear shoes inside – a raised floor (about 6 inches) indicates that you should take them off. Or look at what the locals are doing.
Not many Japanese people speak fluent English. Which is why our Japanese course is tailored to help you interact in Japan. Oh, and we make it really fun.
Explore Japanese course for more
5 cool things to know when learning Japanese:
Japanese greeting etiquette: Practice your bow!
Your Japanese greeting (aisatsu: 挨拶) depends on who you’re greeting and in what context. Showing respect is a huge part of Japan; so we recommend you greet someone with a bow and respectful hello.
Practice makes perfect
Your best bet is to say konnichiwa (こんにちは): a polite ‘hello!’ – usually spoken between 11am and 5pm. Check out how a local says it:
Read our blog on how to say hello in Japanese to discover more Japanese greetings.
Japanese food culture: slurping is good!
Nothing is more delicious than Japanese food. And its importance in Japanese culture cannot be overstated. A global survey on “when are you happiest?” revealed that “eating good food” ranked at the top for Japanese people, whereas “Spending time with partner/friends/family” was the highest in other countries, compared to 5th in Japan.
Feeling hungry? Before you stuff yourself silly with the food-loving locals in the izakayas, there are a few things to note:
- Slurping sounds are NOT rude (almost encouraged): they express how wonderful you think the food tastes
- Chopstick etiquette: DO NOT leave your chopsticks standing up vertically in your food, pass food from one chopstick to another, or stab food with a chopstick
- Shouting at the servers to get attention is not rude
- Your glass will always be refilled in Japan, so if you are done drinking... leave it full
Key phrases to practice:
How to say ‘thank you for the food’ before the meal = いただきます (itadakimasu)
How to say ‘thank you for the food’ after the meal = ごちそうさまです (gochisōsama desu)
Interested? Jump into our course for more useful food-related phrases – and more.
Japanese Work & Business Culture
Many language learners have a job in Japan as their goal. The country is very attractive on the job market – with companies like Toyota Motor, Honda, Nippon, Softbank and many more. Here are 2 useful phrases to help you out.
How to say “hello (between colleagues)” in Japanese = otsukare sama desu (お疲れ様です)
When people ask you how your first day is going....
“It’s an uplifting and fun workplace” = akarukute tanoshī shokuba desu (明るくて楽しい職場です)
Japanese business card etiquette (important)
Business cards are BIG in Japan. Have a few prepared, bow and hand over your business card with your right hand, and hold it by the corner so that names and logos are visible.
When receiving one, inspect it closely. NEVER write on it or put it away in your pocket or wallet. Like in this video...
Use a cardholder (held in your left hand). This sounds complicated. But it’s really very easy and you’ll learn on the job.
For more on Japanese business etiquette, read our complete guide to learning Japanese.
Japanese popular culture is an obsession
Anime (animated cartoons), manga (graphic novels), and Japanese songs are highly talked about in Japan. Speaking about these topics will make you an instant hit with the locals. Plus, they’ll become your latest obsession.
Some fun phrases to learn:
“What manga do you like?” = suki na manga wa nan desu ka? 好きなマンガは何ですか
“I like Japanese music” = watashi wa nihon no ongaku ga suki desu 私は日本の音楽が好きです
“Do you know Naruto?” = naruto tte shi-tte i-masu ka?
Naruto teaser below... did you Japanese anime can help you learn Japanese?
So there you have it. Commit these basics of Japanese culture to memory and keep them in your back pocket when in Japan.
Why learn Japanese with Memrise?
See Michaela’s Japanese journey:
Memrise teaches you essential words & phrases to speak in Japan.
Our app immerses you in the Japanese language at any time (and from any place) you please. Lying on the sofa at home, or chilling at a coffee shop? No problem.
You can also learn on-the-go – perhaps on your way to work – and learn fast through our interactive videos of native speakers and memory tests.
Practice on your own terms. And taste Japan from home.
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