We as ‘westerners’ can learn this from Japanese culture

We live in a time when topics such as mindfulness, gratitude and awareness are hot topics. Japanese culture has many customs and rituals that fit within these topics. But how much do we actually know about Japanese culture?

Subway spoke with the chairman of the Japanese-Dutch association Ingrid Houtkooper. Ingrid says: “Of course, people of flesh and blood also live in Japan, just like in the Netherlands”, but we ‘westerners’ can still learn something from Japanese culture and their customs. Japanese culture has a wide range of ancient customs and traditions.

Japanese culture in four values:

  • respect
  • Conscience
  • Discipline
  • Gratitude

There is no overarching religion in Japan. The Shinto religion is considered the original religion of Japan and can be seen throughout the country. “Shinto shrines (churches) are everywhere, even in the countryside, and they are very well maintained everywhere.” Religion is a habit and part of everyday life for most Japanese. Nice to know is that Shinto rituals are generally used around happy events, such as a birth. Buddhist rituals are used around death and Christian rituals are often used around marriages.

Take time every day to relax

In Japan, it is customary to take some time every day to relax. “The Japanese do not bathe to get clean (they wash themselves outside the bath before entering the bath), but to relax. With a hot bath in the evening you literally wash off all the stress and worries of the day.” Most Japanese take a bath every day to relax. In the Netherlands we often “go on” without taking a moment for ourselves. Know that taking a moment for yourself every day is good for your mental health and your inner peace.

In addition, Japan is a volcanic island and therefore contains hot springs with water that is rich in minerals. These hot springs are called onsen. Onsen are – it is said in Japan – good for all kinds of things, such as blood circulation, high blood pressure, menstrual complaints, rheumatism and wounds. The onsen don’t all smell so good (for example due to the presence of sulphur) or are not all that beautifully clear. But you have to pay for the health effects.

Consciously standing still

Being aware of the small things is integrally ingrained in Japanese culture. In Japan, for example, you have a national day off for ‘respect for the elderly’. On this day everyone is free and takes the time to visit his/her parents or grandparents. In addition, Japan has even more national holidays, such as Sea and Mountains Day. These days off are dominated by something that we ‘westerners’ generally take for granted.

The Japanese have a special word for looking at the pink cherry blossom in spring: ‘Hanami’. The literal translation is ‘looking at the flowers’. There is also a special word for ‘watching the moon’: ‘Tsukimi’. So even in their language the Japanese have words that evoke ‘being aware’.

Eating with the seasons

In Japan it is customary to eat with the seasons. The seasons often run parallel to the Dutch, but there is a clear difference that the transitions of the seasons are faster than with us. For example, in Japan there can be night frost in March and full summer a month later in April.

Eating with the seasons not only brings you in touch with nature, but also with your own body. Moreover, nature is so smart that we often get exactly what we need from seasonal products. Think sweet cherries in the summer and pumpkins in the fall.

Nice to know is that it is customary in Japan to give fruit as a gift. This is not just any fruit, but the best of the best without spots with a delicious taste.

Ingrid Houtkooper

Ingrid Houtkooper is the chairman of the Dutch-Japanese Association. This association is committed to broadening and deepening knowledge of Japan in the Netherlands. The association organizes everything from interesting lectures to guided tours through a Japanese garden. A membership costs 20 euros per year.

Are you a fan of Japanese movies, such as anime? The Camera Japan film festival starts on Thursday September 30 in Amsterdam. Read more information about the program here.

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We as ‘westerners’ can learn this from Japanese culture

We as 'westerners' can learn this from Japanese culture
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