5 Japanese Cultural Codes

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Written by: Trâm Anh


Japan is just an archipelago with 377,915 square kilometers, which is 26 times smaller than the United States, and 9 times smaller than India. However, when it comes to culture, Japan is the country that has one of the most diverse cultural codes in the world, with no less than 250.

Having said that, Japan is the eleventh most populous country in the world, as well as one of the most densely populated and urbanized with vibrant living spaces and rich culture, Japanese, are likely to follow a great variety of etiquette strictly and people, not only the native but also the expatriate, would be in trouble if they broke these principles. 

In this article, let us show you five interesting cultural codes that you may find in The Land of The Rising Sun.

1. Ageashi ( Ah-gay-ah-she) - Tripping Your Own Tongue

Japanese have a tendency to equate good talkers with talkative, impolite as well as untrustworthy behaviors. This pattern of thinking derives from their ancient belief, Buddhism and Confucianism, both of which called for a quiet, contemplative demeanor and held that actions spoke much louder than words.

It is believed that the faster, the more you talk, the more likely you will make some kinds of errors in your choice of vocabulary, and grammar, and use the wrong tone of your voice. A much more severe consequence is “a slip of your tongue”.

Trade secrets are regarded as the most important weapon of a company in order to stand out from their rivals in a highly competitive marketplace like Japan. Once these confidential documents leaked out, there will be a flurry of actions taken to protect brand awareness. The result turns out to be very costly, and time-consuming and in the worst case scenario, the company may face up with the risk of going bankrupt (if the scandal is much more serious).

Therefore, verbosity is taboo in Japan. It eventually poses a number of problems to Japanese’s foreign counterparts. The Westerners, for example, who are likely to have a propensity to talk and express their feelings, find it hard to avoid Ageashi. In a stressful working environment, communicating, having a joke, and showing their emotion is what they can do to release their burden of being. If silence gets dominant over the company, people will be nothing but robots. It may lead to an accelerating increase in depression, which is known as a danger to human life.

What we can do in order to both adhere to the etiquette and truly be ourselves is to control our feeling in the workplace and just feel at home when we are with our beloved, trustworthy people.

2. Age Tsurau (Ah-gay T’sue-rah-oh) - Finding Endless Faults

People tended to take perverse satisfaction in criticizing their government, politicians, educators, service staff, etc. The Japanese are not an exception although their home country boasts its cutting-edge technology, outstanding economic growth, highly effective education system, etc. 

What makes them distinct from the rest of the world is that while other people who find pleased when they reach their target, produce an up-to-par product,… The Japanese have a tendency to strive for the perfectionist. They often make their effort in the hope of getting the maximum possible. The products they produce must be flawless, the speech an authority has must not have any errors, etc.

These fastidious requirements inadvertently make their life harder than anyone. Japanese workers not only design a sophisticated good but also try to find out the flaws contained in it and then seek a solution. Because of its high sophistication, progress may take longer and it requires a lot of professionals with a group of skilled workers to solve it.

However, along with their efficiency, time also plays a key role in their success. In modern times when the shift takes place every second, technological devices like smartphones, for instance, should be presented as soon as possible.

Procrastination, which results in a less smart product, may cost the company a fortune. So unlike westerners, or residents in other regions of the world, who have an 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek, the Japanese, especially males, burn midnight oil regularly so that they can meet their deadline, guaranteeing their perfect standard.

5 japanes cultural code

3. Amai/ Amaku (Ah-my / Ah-mah-kuu) - Spreading On The Sugar

During most of its history, Japan was noted as a paradise for children. Until the early 1950s, mothers habitually slept with their infant children, and carried them on their backs for several hours each day while they did housework or shopped; or they strapped them to the backs of older siblings who carried them around while they worked or played. Young children were almost never put down and left alone.

Another amazing detail is that a number of Japanese mothers also let their kids play along the edge of a nearby canal that had a vertical embankment of some ten feet, and no barrier between its edge and the children’s makeshift playground. But during their playtime, they never fell into the canal or just cried. 

Learning more about this symptom, we finally found out that mothers would never use either verbal or physical punishment on their children. They just let these teenagers do what they want, which is called “Amai”, ( Loving Indulgence), and boys can even have their way without worrying about their parents’ complains

This tradition has been rooted in the native’s minds for years. In the feudal society, the male-dominated, sexist society, males were considered to be the host of a house, who would take responsibility for their extended family. A boy was forced to give up his childhood when he reached the age of seven or eight. He had to be subjected to strict discipline. Therefore, at a very young age, he was first indulged by his mothers. When he grew older and became the breadwinner of his family, his wife would indulge him.

Nowadays, we are living in a world that is upholding gender equality. Such unbalance syndrome has been mitigated more than ever before. However, in some traditional families, it is not difficult for us to find “Amai”, or in some public nighttime entertainment trades, women indulging men is a norm.

4. Enman (Inn-mahn) - The Perils of Harmony

Conformity is what we first notice when we land in a region of Japan. Students have to wear the same uniform (shirts, skirts for girls and trousers for boys, shoes, socks, hats, etc) while pupils in Vietnam are only forced to have the same shirts and trousers when they go to school.

It is important that you must be “normal” if you want to have a fulfilling life in Japan. In a classroom, if a girl has brown hair, no matter whether it is natural or after-dyeing, she will be treated as an outsider, getting scolded by her teachers. And even if she has a certificate from a hospital proving that her hair color is natural, there will be no difference at all.

Another example is that you must repress your emotion, and have the same thinking, the same look, and the same opinion as your colleagues in your working environment. If you are a prodigy, conceal it or your life will be messed up.

The consequence of being “abnormal” is to get ignorance from your teachers, your friends, your colleagues, etc. Every year, many victims of this symptom choose suicide as a way to free themselves. 

Overall the highly refined etiquette and the precisely structured form of Japanese society gave Japan the appearance of harmony, but that appearance was an illusion.

5. Bosai Pakku (Boh-sigh Pahk-kuu) - Preparing For Survival

Japan is the country that is most affected by natural disasters mainly due to it being in the Ring of Fire. Two out of the five most expensive natural disasters in recent history have occurred in Japan, in 1995 and 2011, costing $181 billion. Japan has also been the site of some of the 10 worst natural disasters of the 21st century. Many types of natural disasters occur in Japan such as tsunamis, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, cyclones, and even volcanic eruptions.  

The Kobe quake killed more than 5,000 people, destroyed over 40,000 buildings, collapsed long sections of the city’s main freeway arterial, and left more than 300,000 people homeless. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the government and the country’s construction authorities were castigated for “misleading” the people. As devastating and as deadly as it was, the Kobe quake had a very positive effect. It shocked the Japanese into realizing that their national wealth and economic superpower status did not make them immune to nature flexing its muscles

Despite the regular damaging disaster, the number of immigrants shows no sign of decrease. It is due to the country’s dynamic business, top-rated healthcare, etc, which have never ceased to attract people throughout the world, regardless of its unfavorable geographical location.

In order to have a high standard of life as well as avoid the damage of annual natural catastrophes, citizens are always in a prepared position.

Emergence tools are a must. In the local house, “Bosai Pakku” or “ Survival Kit” is always equipped. They have to make sure that they have enough “ Bosai Pakku” on hand to allow them to survive for an extended period – at least 2 weeks.


Because of being one of the most modern, developed countries in the world, living in Japan is not an easy business. It requires high flexibility, wisdom, self-control, and a brave heart. In order to have a fulfilling life in Japan, we should learn carefully about their cultural codes, and their unique customs and learn how to ingrate into them. Being a prodigy is good but in Japan, standing out just only backfires, making our life harder than ever. Therefore, be careful, and be responsible for your speech, your action, and your emotion when you are living in Japan.

Despite the mentioned culture, it does not mean that it is hard to live in Japan. On the other hand, a lot of foreigners vote Japan for as a must-living country in the world. Cultural barriers are common when we immigrate to a country. As long as we get on well with them, Japan will be our second home. 


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