12 Fun Facts About Japan and Its Culture
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12 Fun Facts About Japan and Its Culture

A journey to Japan is packed with surprises. The architecture is intriguing from the towering temples to the glistening modern buildings. The culture is filled with touching traditions, promoting humility and respect. The nation is rich in both history and modern innovation.

Amid such a society, many unique ideas have been born. Some of these inventive notions have led to global sensations. Here’s an eclectic look at 12 things that call Japan their home or their inspiring place of origin:

Harajuku Street Style

What is Harajuku Fashion?

Harajuku fashion is a mixture of contemporary clothing styles that you can see in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. This street style fashion trends features people wearing genre-mixing looks that are head-turning wonders.

Harajuku street style is popular in Tokyo, Japan.

Harajuku street style is popular in Tokyo, Japan.

Harajuku’s reputation as a fashion landmark led it to being included on a short list of places Vogue magazine included in its street style series in 2023. The area is a photographer’s delight with memorable fashion choices at every turn. And it’s a great place to be inspired if you want to hang out and get a dose of creative energy.


What is Purikura, the Japanese photo booth?

Japan’s famous photo sticker booths called purikura have been a hot trend in the country for decades. In the booths, you can pose with your friends and then go into an edit bay to add filters, frames, text and other graphic effects. The images are then printed on sheets of sticky paper, so you have sticker photos of your memorable moment. It’s a perfect way to spend time with your friends and have a customized souvenir.

Plus, you’ll get an inside look at how some current trends started. Purikura is credited with playing a large role in encouraging phone makers to make reversible cameras. That helped lead to the selfie phenomenon. The purikura trend also prompted social media apps to add various photo filters.

Japanese Buddha Hands

What is the meaning of Buddha’s hand positions?

Religious artwork in Japan frequently features Buddha with hands in various positions called a mudra or symbolic gesture. In Japan, one mudra you may see is an open hand that has a bent index or middle finger touching the thumb. This gesture represents peace and the sharing of Buddhist teachings.

Another mudra depicts the palms turned upwards with the thumbs touching and the fingers bent to form two circles. This hand position symbolizes concentration with the circles representing solid faith.

Japanese Buddha sculpture with a mudra representing firm faith.

A Japanese Buddha sculpture with a mudra representing firm faith.

In other countries there are mudras depicted in Buddhist sculptures, but the artworks often vary. Japanese statues might have a simpler design than works in Thailand, for example. And they may feature different mudras. So check out the differences if you travel through lands with intricate Buddha sculptures.

Konnichiwa! The Japanese Language

How widespread is the Japanese language?

Japan is the only country where Japanese is the national language. Nearly 130 million people speak it as their native tongue. It’s uncertain how Japanese was invented since it predates written language.

Generally the spoken word is easier to master than the written language, so it’s easy to learn how to say words like konnichiwa for hello. The written language is much more challenging. It includes three alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. The first two are phonetic and the third is logographic using Chinese characters, known as kanji. It can take years to learn the system, but it is certainly doable!

Pokémon Sensation

When was Pokémon created?

The worldwide phenomenon of Pokémon began in Japan in 1996. Its creator Satoshi Tajiri was inspired by his childhood when he used to catch insects and trade them. His game centered on capturing creatures with varying degrees of rarity. The game took off, eventually leading to more than 1000 Pokemon figures being created. One of the better known is the adorable Pikachu. If you want to see where it all started, Japan is the place to be.

Manga & Anime

What is Manga?

Believe it or not, today’s manga genre traces its history back to the 12th century. That’s when the art forms used in Japan’s modern-day comic books and graphic novels began to take shape. The word manga stemmed from the Japanese words for whimsical (“man”) and cultural pictures (“‘ga”). It successfully combined art and storytelling.

Japanese manga combines ancient art forms with modern storytelling.

Japanese manga combines ancient art forms with modern storytelling.

In the 20th century, manga took off as artists incorporated more themes, like science fiction. Plus, animators began using manga books to create what’s known worldwide as anime. This form of animation has taken the world by storm. By 2016 it was estimated that 60% of the world’s animated television shows were Japanese anime. While you can see manga and anime across the globe, its presence is at a different level in Japan.

Studio Ghibli

What is Studio Ghibli?

Speaking of anime, Studio Ghibli is among the most successful companies in the genre. It has created some of the highest grossing films in Japan, and five of its films have been nominated for Academy Awards. In 2003, the studio’s film Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Because of its success, there are touches of Ghibli energy throughout the country. A park and museum are dedicated to Ghibli films, and a number of stores sell memorabilia items from the films. Plus, in Tokyo you can see things like the Ni-Tele Really Big Clock that was designed by the Ghibli team and looks like something you’d see in movies like Howl’s Moving Castle.

Kaitenzushi – Time for Sushi!

What is a sushi train?

In the 1950s the idea of conveyor belt sushi or kaitenzushi was born in Japan. Today restaurants across Japan have boarded the sushi train. In these restaurants sushi is delivered via conveyor belt, and it tends to be cheaper than higher end sushi restaurants.

lunch with Japanese sushi dish with roll in chopsticks close up

Japanese sushi is popular meal option while you’re traveling in Tokyo.

In some restaurants various sushi dishes are placed on the belt, and you can grab what you want. Many also have the option to order what they want on a touchpad. Then the dish is sent down the conveyor train to the customer.

These restaurants usually have self-served tea where you put powder in a cup and add water in a dispenser. At the end of the meal, you stack up your plates, and you’re charged by the number of plates and the types of plates. Plates are priced based on their color or pattern. It’s a fun way to get a healthy meal.

Japanese Street Food – Takoyaki and More

What are some popular Japanese street foods?

The sushi is great, and so is the ramen! But there also are a plethora of other options for foodies in Japan. This includes the treats being sold by vendors on Japan’s streets. Here you’ll find many options that aren’t as mundane as a hot dog.

Just a few of the popular choices include:

  • Takoyaki – wheat flour balls filled with chopped octopus, tempura, pickled ginger and green onion
  • Kushiten – skewered fish cakes
  • Yakisoba – wok-fried noodles
  • Taiyaki – fish-shaped cakes
Japanese street food like takoyaki is a real treat.

Japanese street food like takoyaki is a real treat.


And there’s much, much more. Exploring food choices is a must in Japan.

Japanese Umbrellas

Japanese umbrellas? Parasols? What’s the difference?

While you’re on the streets, you may see many umbrellas in Japan. The simple umbrella has quite a history in Japan. Centuries ago the Japanese began putting oil on washi paper to repel rainwater. Eventually a bamboo handle was added and umbrella usage exploded. In the Endo period from 1603 to 1868 umbrellas were mainstream and became more colorful.

Tens of millions of umbrellas are used in Japan every year.

Tens of millions of umbrellas are used in Japan every year.

This design appeal led to the creation of parasols that weren’t waterproof but were decorative. These dainty umbrellas are now a decorative feature across the globe.

Still, the more practical use of umbrellas was not lost. In fact the widespread use of umbrellas in Japan has become an environmental concern. An estimated 120 million and 130 million umbrellas are consumed every year in Japan. People often grab them for pop-up storms and then leave them in the streets. This led to efforts to promote the use of rented umbrellas made from recycled materials.

Japanese Flying Squirrels

What flying squirrels live in Japan?

Away from the cities, travelers in Japan can check out various endemic species. The country’s flying squirrels are among those that tend to get attention. Japan has both dwarf flying squirrels and giant ones. The dwarf squirrels can be found on Honshu and Kyushu islands. They’re only about 8 inches long and mainly can be seen gliding at night.

Japanese dwarf flying squirrel

Japanese dwarf flying squirrels are only about eight inches long.

The giant flying squirrels are much larger. Their bodies can be up to 20 inches long. They’re also nocturnal, but are easier to spot. For whatever reason, these squirrels seem to like to hang out in forested areas near temples and shrines. So if you see something above your head at night, it may not be a bat. It may be a gliding squirrel.

Japanese Urban Legends

Are Japanese urban legends scary?

That flying squirrel may not be scary, but there are other creatures afoot in Japan that are frightening – at least if you believe the urban legends. Horrible creatures are said to lurk in Japan in all kinds of places. This includes waterways where spirits called kappas are said to lure children and pull them under. To defeat kappas you can bow to greet them. When the kappa bows in return, the water that fills their sauce-shaped heads spills out, and they lose their powers.

Other frightening figures are said to lurk in bathrooms. This includes the male spirit Aka Manto and the schoolgirl Toire no Hanako-san. If you encounter one of them, you could meet your doom if you aren’t on your toes. For Aka Manto, you should turn down any offers of paper. For the schoolgirl, you should avoid the third stall of a bathroom on the third floor. In either case, running may be in order!

This isn’t to say all the legendary creatures in Japan are scary. One of the most famous ones is Momotarō or the peach boy. He is said to have been born from a giant peach, adopted by an elderly couple, and developed into a local hero.

That’s just 12 of the interesting things you may see in Japan. Check out our programs in Japan if you want to see more.


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Lead Editor

Mary is the Lead Editor at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.