Timeless Japanese Traditions

Japan is a country that prides itself with its cultural traditions, some of which are centuries old. Many traditions are meant to honor religious deities or commemorate historical events. Japan also has numerous festivals that are simply worth witnessing. Here are some Japanese traditions that have remained timeless through the years:

Removing shoes when entering a house

In Japanese culture, people remove their shoes before entering a home.  Most Japanese homes have entryway areas called genkan (玄関) where people remove shoes.

Removing shoes, Japan. | m-louis

The genkan is a step lower than the main floor of the house. The custom of removing shoes before entering a house can be traced back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Japanese wore sandals (zoori) or clogs (geta)while walking through the muddy fields.  It is customary in traditional homes to eat, sit and sleep directly on the floor or straw mats. It was likely that shoes were left outside to keep the house clean.

Going to sentō or public bath houses

Sentō (銭湯) is a public bath house that charges a fee for entrance and use of the facilities. Many Japanese still find that going to a public bath house is an important social ritual: a longstanding Japanese custom that “physical proximity brings emotional intimacy.” The origins of the Japanese bathing culture and the sentō in general can be traced back to Buddhist temples in India. The practice then spread to China and finally to Japan during the Nara period (710–784).

Tea ceremonies

The earliest tea ceremony came to Japan in the 6th century as a significant part of Buddhist meditation. During the Kamakura Shogunate, tea became a status symbol of the warrior class.

Japanese tea ceremony.

During this time, tea tasting parties came into wide practice in Japan, regardless of society level. Many tea ceremony schools have evolved throughout the history of chado and are still active today.

Floating Lanterns

Floating lanterns or “Toro Nagashi” is an event that’s mostly observed during Japan’s Obon holiday.

Floating lanterns, Japan. | Freedom II Andres

According to traditional Japan beliefs, the soul of loved ones come back to the world of the living one way or another. Floating lanterns are used to symbolize the journey of souls to the afterlife.

Bowing

Bowing (お辞儀) is perhaps the best-known form of Japanese etiquette. The custom of bowing is more complicated than most people think. Bowing can be used for introductions, appreciation, apologies, and greetings. The specific intricacies of bowing vary, with duration and depth of bow prescribed for every circumstance.