As a land of the rising sun, Japan is indeed raising traditions that spread across the pacific and are accepted throughout the world.
You’ve eaten various sushi and sashimi to your heart’s content, you fought with swords like a true samurai as a kid, and seen at least one anime movie. These and many more are all marks of the Japanese remarkably unique culture.
Geographically positioned on an island, Japan is somewhat isolated, thus manages to preserve its traditional ways throughout the years, leaving many visitors in awe. During the years, much of the European and American influence quickly took on Japanese dimensions, turning into something distinctly Japanese again. As a result, Japan today holds many unique customs and traditions that are well worth the attention. Yet, regardless of the amount of information you go through, the beauty of the country should be seen to be felt and nothing can prepare you for your first trip to the land of the Samurai.
Food is on top of the list of course, but I gotta warn you, don’t read further if you have a weak stomach, because this is no ordinary list. Anyway, supposing you took my advice, here’s a list of three of the most bizarre eaten foods in Japan
- The White Children, or Shirako in Japanese, is a commonly eaten snack in bars. It consists of sperm sac of the fish and supposedly has a melting buttery taste. Feeling queasy yet? Don’t worry, by the end of this short list you will.
- Hachinoko is another bar snack that goes well with beer. Namely, the dish is made of deep fried bee larvae. Frying the larvae in sugar and soy sauce makes them crunchy, but you might need a big head start on those beers before you decide to try the sugary bees.
- Fugu, as the poisonous Pufferfish is cutely called in Japan, is something that you want to be prepared by professionals before you eat it. The skin, liver, and ovaries contain lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin, while the flesh doesn’t and although they’ve had plenty of time to figure out HOW to eat this dish since it’s part of the tradition, I’d be a bit freaked out of asphyxiation.
Part of the traditional Japanese clothing consisting of layers of robes made of silk or weaved satin. Today Kimonos are quite costly, but once were an everyday wear in Japan. Considered formal clothing, from weddings to funerals, graduation parties and so on, Kimono has a different look for different occasions.
Japanese architecture, whether is traditional or modern, is something to see. Traditional houses and buildings are worthy of mention because it’s quite astonishing how in the past they were solely made of wood. And while modern buildings have taken the form like in the rest of the world, the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, fortunately, never lost their old-fashioned look. There are around 100,000 Shinto shrines and 80,000 Buddhist temples. Many of them are architectural wonders are a must-see for visitors.
In a land as captivating as Japan, there are hundreds of traditional customs that even locals do not know the reason or time of appearance for each one. Here are some that are still being used today:
- Floating Lanterns: The tradition is known as Toro Nagashi and is a ceremony that represents the journey of souls into the afterlife. The time of year when it’s believed that the spirits of loved ones return to the world is called Obon and it’s a well-respected custom in Japan. The lanterns are also used to commemorate tragic events such as the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima.
- Sitting Seiza: The type of sitting is most common in martial arts and with children in schools. The posture should be upright and is controlled strictly.
- Dondo Yaki: Every January people of Japan burn lucky items. It’s considered bad luck to throw these items in the trash, instead, they should be burned. ‘Why throw lucky items?’, you may ask. Well, these items are sold by shrines and decorated with the Japanese zodiac symbol of the current year and it’s considered bad luck to hold on to them after the year ends.
- Sumo: In the western world, this is seen purely as a sport, but in Japan is as much as ritual and culture as it is a type of sport. There is a ritual of purification of the ring by each wrestler and he must throw salt around it before they start wrestling. Sumo wrestlers are required to live a traditional lifestyle and dress in traditional clothing at all times in their life.
- Origami: The art of folding paper. This takes some serious nerves and skills as well as the flexibility of the fingers to make paper come to life. It is taught is kindergartens and primary schools and the Japanese use them as in the everyday life so for special occasions like weddings.
Random Fan Facts
- Although the Japanese language is considered to be one of the most complex languages, Japanese people do have a lot of loanwords which can make you hear familiar sounds when they speak. For instance, bread is Pan from the Portuguese word Pão and the part-time worker is Arubaito, from the German Arbeit, which means work.
- One of the most common and ridiculous way in which foreigners (usually Italians) embarrass themselves when in a Japanese bar, is when they say cin cin on clinking glasses to toast. Unfortunately for the Japanese, chinchin is how Japanese children refer to the male organ!
- Up until the 1860s, sugar was extremely expensive for the Japanese, so they had to come up with alternative sweeteners when making desserts. As a reason, very popular desserts in Japan use red beans as sweeteners. Am I the only one skeptical about the taste?
- Speaking of desserts, the Japanese don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day like the rest of the population in the world. In Japan, it is usual for the girl to buy present for the guy on this day, BUT a month later, on 14th of March, they celebrate what is called The White Day. This is when the guy reciprocates and buys only marshmallows for the girl.
- Japanese humor and jokes tend to be more story-telling like and they are as long as a story would be. Here I leave you with a very famous story-based joke:
A few friends are sitting around having some drinks. One of them asks the rest what they’re most scared of. One says spiders, another says slugs, the guy next to him snakes and so on…
Finally, one of them admits it’s manjū cakes that scare him the most. So, as a practical joke, his friends go off to get lots of manju cakes and lock him in a room with them. After a while, they open the door – only to see that he’s actually eaten all of them! “Hey!” shouts one of the friends, “I thought you said you were terrified of manjū! You liar! So come on, tell us the truth now! What is it that you’re really frightened of?” “Well,” says the man thinking for a while, “Funny you ask that, but at this very moment, I think I’m really scared of a nice cup of tea….”