From the ritual tea ceremonies and graceful gardens and shrines to the world’s first high-speed train and modern skyscrapers, Japan is an innovative society steeped in ancient culture. Japan’s most recognized national holiday is New Year’s and is celebrated for three to four days. The Japanese people keep active and entertained, participating in activities like kendo (Japanese fencing), kabuki, Noh theater, and even baseball.
Japanese people do not call attention to themselves; they try to blend in and are notably polite. Teamwork, cooperation, industriousness, loyalty and consensus are core Japanese values.
Family is the foundation of Japanese society, bound by a strong sense of position, obligation and responsibility. Early on, Japanese children learn to forgo personal gain for the benefit of the group as a whole, and to value group harmony. Seniority is respected, and Japanese children are taught to hold their elders in the highest regard. Parents tend to keep a close eye on their children’s behavior, and high school students are rarely allowed to go out after the evening meal.
Because the country’s major cities are among the most crowded in the world, living space is limited. Even in tight quarters, though, Japanese homes manage to blend ancient customs with contemporary conveniences. Some families sleep on futons, sit on cushions and eat at low tables. When one enters a Japanese house, they leave their shoes at the doorway and will wear slippers provided by the host. Socks or bare feet only are allowed in the rooms with tatami floors (straw mats). There are even special slippers just for using the bathroom.
Japanese teens devote themselves almost entirely to schoolwork and extracurricular clubs that fall into two general categories: sports (baseball, soccer, judo, kendo, track, tennis, swimming, softball, volleyball, rugby, etc.) and culture (English, broadcasting, calligraphy, science, mathematics, yearbook planning, etc.). Clubs meet nearly every day for about two hours. Japanese teens also enjoy going to movies or shopping as a group on weekends.
The Japanese diet consists largely of rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, fruit, meat (mostly pork and chicken) and seafood. Meals are eaten with chopsticks. Rice and green tea are part of almost every meal. Nowadays, Western style dishes are also served. Do not be insulted if your student slurps at the table, it is a sign that the food is good.
Japanese is the official language of Japan. Most Japanese practice a combination of Buddhism and Shinto, but few attend religious services on a regular basis.