Japanese Culture Analysis: Core Values and Traditions

Table of Contents


Japanese culture represents a unique combination of historical, political, religious and social forces which influence the society and its values. Every culture has its own unique qualities not found in other cultures. Japan is no exception. It is culture is centered on the core values and traditions. They lead Japanese people to have different ways of looking at the world largely from differences in language and religion. Japanese culture determines specific way of living and social relations, cultural and religious views.

History, Culture and Lifestyle

Japanese culture is based on unique traditions and values influenced by religion and life style. The Japanese learned to view the world from the perspective of traditional versus modern values after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 following the opening of Japan’s doors to the world. This attitudinal structure started to fall apart in 1978, and its disintegration became definite by 1988. For example, the “conquering” nature was an important value during the era of Japan’s modernization process, but it has since been replaced by the “following” nature.

In the middle of the XX century, the traditional perspective of catching up with the West and categorizing what is Western and Japanese has become meaningless (Oxtoby 65). While the industrialization process produced divergent values for Japan and the West, it also is responsible for the development of some homogeneous cultural values. Researchers found three levels of similarities:

  1. frequency distribution of single variables,
  2. similar impacts of age and gender on attitudes, and
  3. similar structures in the way people categorize their experience (Oxtoby 98).

Modern Japanese lifestyle is influenced by industrialization and innovations coming from other countries. Thus, Japanese value their old traditions and rituals adapting them to new social environment. For instance, Japanese take off shoes inside the house, they pay 5% commission tax for purchases, they follow bath and toilette design according to norms and practices of century old traditions (Oxtoby 99).

In short, the Japanese self, characterized by its diffuse nature or collective orientation, represents a self who lost its space to be free of the omnipresence of the giri-ninjâ social network in Japanese society in return for being taken care of by its group. The strong sense of belonging to one’s company and family assures one materially a comfortable life at the individual level and stability and safety at the social level, making Japan relatively free of violent crimes. Such a life is stifling and meaningless to Americans even if they must pay a high price of alienating from the rest of society (Shelley, 55).

Japan managed to keep a sense of alienation to a minimum as it industrialized and urbanized by maintaining its virtually “village” mentality and social network. However, the value the Japanese gain by observing the traditional code of conducts, the giri-ninjô, is material and psychological welfare, which is provided to members of Japanese society more or less equally and fairly at the individual level, and public safety, which is provided at the collective level in Japan today.

Another pair of terms often used in discussing Japanese culture is tatemae and honne. The former refers to the proper role expectation as defined by society and the second to one’s real inner feelings, however irrational they may be. Often, to act in accordance with giri is to act in conformity with the norm of a community (tatemae). The role language plays in culture cannot be underestimated, for it offers a way of organizing one’s life experience in a particular way that is shared by its speakers but not necessarily by people in other cultures (Davies and Ikeno, 76).


Family is one of the most important social institutions which keep century old traditions and human relations. In response to the traditional call for harmony, the Japanese are expected to conform to group norms. This proclivity yields situational ethics based on flexible standards (Shelley, 1992). There are no absolute criteria by which one passes judgment. The Japanese spend a disproportionately large sum of money for socializing, as embodied in semiannual gift exchanges between friends, relatives, and colleagues and after-work drinking of working men and women among co-workers and friends.


In Japan, nearly 100 % of the population are Buddhists and in many cases Scientists. The Japanese are, of course, not religious in the sense that they believe in God. Christians constitute about I % of the total population. Most Japanese are not very concerned with religion. They celebrate the birth of children in accordance with the Shintô rituals and bury their dead with the help of Buddhist priests. Meanwhile, they may get married in civil ceremonies, Christian churches, or other facilities. That is perhaps what makes it possible for the Japanese to accept more than one religion at the same time, an unthinkable option for monotheistic people of the West and West Asia, accustomed as they are to dialecticism.

The Japanese approach the world in a diffuse fashion or inclusively. The number of Japanese with a religious faith increases with age (Davies and Ikeno, 87). Fewer than 10 % of the Japanese in their early twenties and about 50 % of Japanese senior citizens over sixty years of age are religious. The older one becomes, the more religious one becomes. Likewise, Japan never had any revolutions such as experienced by China, France, and the United States.

Revolutions are carried out by those who believe in the total destruction of the old regime and the establishment of a radically different doctrine. The Japanese seem to be incapable of totally denying their past. They are always interested in improving (kaizen) their existing system–be it via fax machine, Buddhism, or television sets. The majority of the Japanese do not take religion very seriously from the Western perspective (Oxtoby 43).

Type of society

Japanese society can be characterized as collectivist and industrialized society. Thus, recent years the increased sense of self-confidence among the Japanese suggests the passing of the era of catching up with the West. Changes reflect the transformation Japan is going through along with other industrialized parts of the world. These changes suggest that the Japanese are moving from a collectivity centered life to a more individual-centered life.

This change is manifested in the family line question, following a preferred way of life, and less interest shown in electoral participation. The Japanese are far from being individually oriented in relation to Americans. The Japanese are becoming more democratic in their orientation and transforming themselves out of being subjects to citizens with a full sense of confidence in taking part in politics (Japanese Lifestyle 2000). Women are beginning to be treated better than ever before, even though Japan has a long way to go toward being on par with the United States (Shelley 11).

Another perspective of Japan in which the self plays a less significant part is that Japan is a closed society. This dimension of Japan points to the ubiquitous existence of groups to which all Japanese belong, for family, school, and workplace to professional associations. The strength of group cohesiveness formed to protect and promote its members’ interest has its beneficial and as well as maleficent effects.

The rate of crime is low and the sense of alienation is remarkably low in urbanized and industrialized Japan, but it is difficult for newcomers to be accepted into any group (Japanese Lifestyle 2000). There are two types of social organization that result from this Japanese propensity:

  1. mutual dependency relations, such as in a married couple, and
  2. vertical relations or a hierarchy, as in oyabun-kobun (bossfollower) relations.

The former refers to what the Japanese traditionally call mochitsu motaretsu relations. The dependency relations characterized by primary group relations are maintained through the exchange of gifts and frequent visits (Martines, 88).

Import/Exports, Types of Employment

The remarkable feature of Japanese employment relations is a life long employment. Also, many employees would prefer to work for a “firm with a family-like atmosphere that organized outings and sports days, even if the wages were a little bit less” over another firm with a higher pay. The Japanese definitely consider the place of their employment as a place of their primary group association. They are reflective of family principles and national values and the country’s national identity.

It is often supposed that Japanese firms are flat, with administration being by consensus. Many Japanese firms exhibit hierarchical characteristics, with decision-making coming from the top. Japanese personnel practices are based on co-operation. The concept of collectivism, which starts in the family, and is mirrored in businesses, relies on mutual interdependence and loyalty (Action agenda 21, 2005).

Typical Food, Dress, Customs

Most Japanese prefer sea food as reflection of cultural traditions and cuisine. Sushi is one of the most well-known and popular food in Japan and around the world. Also, Japanese cuisine involve such popular dishes as domburi, Gomaae, Soba, Ramen etc, and the most popular drink Soke. Tea Ceremony is a special event in business negotiations. For centuries this ritual has been widely used in business as a special treatment and respect for guests. Kissing is the natural thing in many cultures. For Japanese people, kissing is not natural. It is not something that everybody does, or would like to do. Associated with the calculability of gifts is the idea that when it comes time to give someone a gift in return, its value should equal the value of a gift received from that person (Martines, 72).

Gender and Globalization

Globalization ha changed social and cultural relations, economic and political situation in the world. In Japan, the main changes in economic and political life have been caused by greater participation of women in labor force and access to education. Globalization creates new opportunities for both men and women to educate and receive good education abroad. Place of residence provides an indicator of educational and occupational opportunities. It is assumed that rural and urban areas differ in social and economic structures. The chain change influenced integration and globalization processes is an increased number of men coming to cities.

Large cities and bigger towns have an advantage over rural communities in terms of educational facilities and work opportunities (Shelley 23). Utilizing life-table techniques, we will examine both the cumulative proportion of women who have entered the labor force at each age and the rate of entry at each age. The rate of entry will be decomposed into two components: entry into gainful or unpaid work. Greater participation of women in labor force creates new industries and services such as fashion industry and film industry, political leadership of women and equal rights movement (Shelley 81).

In sum, Japanese culture represents a unique mixture of religious and national traditions which lead to unique values, beliefs, family structure and economic relations inside the country. Characteristics of current economic activity in Japan are influenced by socioeconomic background, educational attainment, early work experiences, and household conditions. The effects of each of these variables vary in each country; though, some common relationships appear. Education is positively related to laborforce participation, especially in gainful service. Japanese cultural principles influence all aspects of life and relations between people and between genders.

Works Cited

. 2005. Web.

Davies, R.J., Ikeno, O. The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. Tuttle Publishing, 2002.

Japanese Customs and Traditions. 2007. Web.

Japanese Lifestyle 2000. Web.

Martines, D. The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Oxtoby G. World Religions: Eastern Traditions. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Shelley, R. Culture Shock! Japan. Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, 1992.

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