Japanese culture and its everyday expressions

See and learn about Japanese culture and its everyday expressions!

Japanese culture is something really fascinating. I think I'm tired of saying it, but I keep repeating that it is very different from Western culture because it has many particularities.

Japanese culture and its everyday expressions

Normally the culture of a people is reflected in the language they are destined for, but no other culture that I know of has presented as many different aspects of the language as the Japanese culture. And in this article, I hope I can introduce you to something a little different from books, bringing people even closer to a culture as interesting as Japanese culture.

Hover over Japanese symbols to see their pronunciation and translation.

Japanese culture and influence on the language

When I say that the Japanese culture is reflected in the language, which means that Japanese culture can change the meaning of already known expressions. Usually books teach them in one way, but when getting in touch with the Japanese, we realize that things are not quite like that. This is not to say that the books are wrong, just that some information is missing from them.

Nice to meet you or I'm counting on you

The first example of this that came to my mind was the case of よろしくお願いします.

Although its use is commonly associated with meeting someone for the first time, Japanese culture also allows it to be used when asking for a favor or leaving a task for someone to do.

In a more literal translation, I see よろしくお願いします like I humbly ask that you pay attention to what I am asking of you. or simply I count on your help. From what I could perceive, Japanese culture does not see this transfer of responsibility as something noble, so it requires a lot of humility from the side of those who ask for a favor.

Sorry or Thank you

The second case is our well-known すみません. When I first met him, it was associated with an apology, but Japanese culture changed its meaning until it became something like a thank you. Even though it's kind of weird, すみません can also be used to say thank you for a favor.

Suppose you are walking the streets of Japan and you drop something like your wallet or your car keys. At that moment, a Japanese man who was walking towards you, picks up what you dropped and gives it back to you. In moments like these I expected to hear どうも or ありがとう, but it seems to be more common to hear すみません.

Again I thought of a more literal translation, which would better explain this case, and I found the translation I'm sorry for making you worry (annoy, annoy….) and take action on my behalf. Thanks.

Japanese culture thanks you twice

This fact was one of the ones I found most interesting, due to the high difference between our culture and the Japanese culture. From what I've read about it, when a Japanese person receives a gift, for example, he immediately thanks you. After a few days, when he meets you again, he will say この間はありがとうございました.

Depending on how long you didn't meet after the gift was delivered, the expression can change using adverbs of time. If the Japanese received the gift yesterday and met with you today, he will say 昨日はありがとうございました.

The interesting thing about all of this is that Japanese culture expects you to say thank you for the favor or gift at least twice, once when everything happens, and a second time when you meet again. This serves as a sign that we are truly grateful for what happened.

Japanese culture and its reverences

It's impossible to talk about よろしくお願いします and not remember the お辞儀, that Japanese reverence so common to see in movies, anime and series.

The most correct way to perform the お辞儀 it seems to be just bending forward to form a forty-five degree angle between the torso and the legs, but none of this should be too precise. The rest of the guidelines and way of positioning the hands don't seem to have a certain pattern. Despite this, I will try to describe the most common modes that I know of.

In the case of men, it is preferable to keep the hands close to the body, placing them on the sides of the legs, as if standing at attention, and then bend forward. In the case of women, it is more common to bring the hands forward and leave both hands together, forming a triangle with the shoulders, arms and hands. The image below better illustrates the two positions.

female japanese bow

Japanese culture and everyday expressions - female Japanese reverence

male japanese bow


It is worth noting that when we meet someone for the first time, usually the bow needs to be deeper and slower, bowing much more than usual. This symbolizes the amount of respect we have for the other person. In other cases, such a deep reverence is not necessary.

Japanese culture of genkan

The genkan is a small area at the entrance to Japanese homes and some other places. Tradition dictates that, before entering, we must remove our shoes in this region. Too easy recognize the genkan, since his floor is slightly different from the floor of the house.

This is something many of us already know, but what some of us don't know is that we can't just leave shoes in the genkan anyway. Look at the image below to see an incorrect way to use genkan:

Wrong way to use Genkan


Japanese culture dictates that people should remove their shoes, or sneakers, and leave them in a corner of the genkan. We should literally leave them at the ends so that it doesn't make it difficult for other people to put their shoes on when they are going out.

Correct way to use Genkan

If that doesn't happen, the Japanese will be under the impression that the owner of those shoes doesn't have much education or sense of community. In some cases, it can even be embarrassing. Below are other images that show the correct use of genkan.

Below is a short video demonstrating how to use genkan when entering a case and some more information. It's in English but it's a good illustration of the good use of genkan.

Finally concluding…

I don't know if you guys like big articles, but sometimes I get a little carried away here at Japanese language. I know there are still many things about Japanese culture that I haven't mentioned here, but I've tried to focus on what I believe to be essential.

Some things may not have gone as expected, but I tried to focus on some curious points of Japanese culture or those that influence the language. I hope you enjoyed.

Kanji calligraphy exercise

Below are the Japanese ideographic symbols used in this article. Selecting the desired kanji, copy and paste them into Worksheet for Kana and Kanji Practice , a new window will open where you can view the printable file and practice Japanese calligraphy by covering the gray symbols and then trying to write yourself. Just print and practice.