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Last updated : Nov 2009
Japan Social Profile
Japan Culture and Social Profile - TravelPuppy.com
Food & Drink

Japanese cuisine, now a favourite in the West, involves very sensitive flavours, crisp fresh vegetables and an absence of richness. Specialities include teriyaki (marinated beef, fish or chicken seared on a hot plate), sukiyaki (thin slices of beef, vegetables and tofu prepared in soy sauce and then dipped in egg), sashimi (slices of raw seafood dipped in soy sauce) sushi (slices of raw seafood placed on lightly vinegared rice balls – very tasty and refreshing) and tempura (deep fried seafood and vegetables).

A superb place to try sushi is a Kaiten Sushi Bar, where several varieties pass the customer on a conveyor belt permitting complete choice over which delicacies to sample, at cheaper prices than a traditional Sushi Bar. Great Oriental food (Korean – very hot – and Chinese) is served in restaurants.

A vast number and variety of international restaurants are also available, catering for all tastes and budgets, from French and Italian to Chinese, Thai and Indian. Western cuisines in expensive places are good, but cheaper restaurants are sometimes disappointing. Restaurants have table service and in some places it is required to remove footwear.

Green tea is definitely the most popular beverage amongst the Japanese. The quality of the tea varies largely from matcha (a bitter green tea used in tea ceremonies), to houjicha (a common brown-coloured tea) to. Sake, rice wine served cold or hot depending on the season, is strong and uniquely fresh tasting. Shochu, a strong aquavit, is a taste that must be acquired. Japanese wines are well worth trying once, and beer – similar to lager – is recommended. Popular brands are Asahi, Sapporpo, Kirin, and Suntory.

Waiter service is normal in bars. The Japanese are quite fond of original Scotch whisky, however this is both very costly and highly sought after, therefore Japanese versions of this drink are often served. There are no licensing hours. A part of drinking is the long-standing rituals of politeness. The hostess will pour a drink for the guest, and will insist on the guest's glass being full. It is also appreciated if the guest pours drinks for the host, but it is not good manners for a visitor to pour one for himself.


Tokyo has a vast amount of cinemas, theatres, coffee shops, bars, , nightclubs and discos. A wide variety of bars are available, from the upmarket and stylish to cheap street stalls. In the summer, rooftop beer gardens are very popular.

There are also some clubs with hostesses who expect to be bought drinks and snacks. In larger bars and nightclubs, a basic hostess charge is levied. However, there are thousands of other clubs and bars. In Tokyo there are concerts of all styles of music just about every night. Foreign opera companies, orchestras, ballet companies and rock/pop stars visit Japan all year round. There are also some live jazz houses.

For those who desire to experience the traditional Japanese performing arts, there is Kabuki and Noh theatre in Tokyo. Play Guide ticket offices are located in major department stores. It is recommended to buy the tickets in advance because shows sell out fairly quickly. Karaoke bars are a quite popular form of entertainment in Japan.


A mixture of Oriental goods and Western sales techniques confronts the shopper, especially at the large department stores, which are more similar to exhibitions than shops. Playgrounds for children are also available. Special purchases include kimonos, mingei (local crafts including folk toys and kites); Kyoto silks, screens, fans, dolls; religious articles such as Shinto and Buddhist artifacts; paper lanterns; lacquerware; cameras hi-fi equipment, televisions and other electronic equipment. Bargaining is not usual.

Tax exemptions: These are available in approved tax-free stores. Certain items costing over ¥10,000 are exempt from tax.

Shopping hours: 10:00-19:00/20:00 every day of the week and on public holidays.

Special Events

A vast number of festivals are held in the country year round in various parts of Japan. Some are hugely spectacular, and some are religious in orientation. For additional details of events and festivals, contact the Japan National Tourist Organisation (see Contacts section).

The below list is a selection of special events occurring in Japan in 2006:
January 2 Ippan Sanga (Imperial Palace Celebrations, palace opens to public), Tokyo
January 8-10 Toka Ebisu (Festival of Imamiya Ebisu Shrine), Osaka
January 20 Niramekko Obisha Festival, Ichikawa.
February 7-13 Sapporo Snow Festival
March Cherry Blossom Viewing, nationwide
March 1-14 Omizutori (Water-drawing Festival), Nara
March 3 Hinamatsuri Doll Festival, nationwide
May Sanja Festival, Tokyo
July 7 Tanabata (Star Festival), nationwide
August Daimonji, Kyoto
August 9 Nagasaki Memorial Day
September 7-8 Tokyo Gay & Lesbian Pride
October Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Eras), Kyoto
November 15 Shichi-go-san (Children’s Shrine Visiting Day), nationwide
December Chichibu Yo-matsuri (All-night Festival), Chichubu City
December 31-January 3
O-Shogatsu (New Year’s celebrations), nationwide
Social Conventions

Japanese customs and manners are very different from those of Western people. A strict code of behaviour and courtesy is observed and followed by virtually all Japanese. However, they are aware of the difference between themselves and other countries therefore they do not expect visitors to be familiar with all their customs, they just expect polite and formal behaviour.

 A straightforward refusal is not part of Japanese etiquette.

 A vague ‘yes’ does not really mean ‘yes’ however the visitor may be comforted to know that misunderstanding caused by non-committal replies happens between the Japanese themselves.

 Entertaining guests in the home is not as customary as in the West, as it is an enterprise not lightly taken and the full red-carpet treatment is given.

 Japanese men are also sensitive lest their wives be embarrassed and feel that their hospitality is not adequate by Western standards; for example, by the inconvenience to a foreign guest of the custom of sitting on the floor.

 Bowing is the traditional greeting but shaking hands has become common for business meetings with Westerners.

 The honorific suffix san should be used when addressing all men and women, for example Mr Yamada would be addressed as Yamada-san.

 When entering a Japanese home or restaurant it is traditional to remove footwear.

 Table manners are very important, however Japanese host will be very tolerant towards a visitor. But, it is best if visitors become familiar with basic table etiquette and use chopsticks.

 It is traditional for a guest to bring a small present when visiting someone’s home.

 Exchange of gifts is also a common practice in business and may take the form of souvenir items such as company pens, ties or high-quality spirits.

 Smoking is only prohibited where notified.


Tips are never expected since a 10 to 20 % service charge is added to bills at hotels, ryokan and restaurants; where a visitor desires to show special appreciation of a service, money should not be offered in the form of loose change but rather as a small financial gift. Special printed envelopes can be purchased for financial gifts of this type.