Overview of the Philosophical Culture of Japan

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Japan is a country that has been around for a very long time. It has always been an ever-changing country with a culture that has also changed many times. Japan’s history is written throughout the world because of wars and trade with other countries. Japan used to be very isolated. In fact, it may be because of this seclusion and that Japan was able to assimilate foreign cultures rapidly without anxiety. Japan is a mountainous country.

The country also lacks essential resources because of its bad geography. This makes the country one of the biggest importers in the world. The climate of Japan resembles that of the eastern coast of the United States. The Japanese have very strong and unique cultural customs that have not changed over time. The history of Japan is based off the customs of China and Korea. Japan has long been known as a country inhabited by homogenous ethnic groups with very similar cultures.

The Japanese language is classified as one of the Altaic family, which includes Korean, Turkic, and Mongolic languages. These languages have common characteristics such as initial consonants are simple, verb have suffixes, modifiers precede the word modified, and verbs come at the end of sentences. The standard spoken language was formulated after the Meji Restoration of 1868 when Japan became a centralized nation state with a new capital in Tokyo. The leaders of the new government came from different regions of Japan and spoke different dialects. A Japanese speaker must constantly keep in mind his or her relative position to the other, which is determined by one’s social position age, relationship, or other factors related to the particular circumstance.

The Japanese writing system adopts what the Chinese use in their writing system. Three sets of writing systems are used in a single piece of writing in Japan today. Kanji (Chinese characters), hiragana, and katakana are the three sets of writing systems, and kanji has around 8,000 characters in it. Kanji is used for most nouns and the stem of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. The inflectional ending, suffix, and function words are always written in hiragana. Katakana is used to represent foreign names and sounds without meaning. In order to pass as a literate person and enjoy popular literature a Japanese citizen must know at least 3,000 commonly used Chinese characters. The Japanese writing system is very expansive which is why it is very hard for an English speaker to learn. The language of Japan shows how much China has influenced the country.

The philosophical culture of Japan was influenced profoundly by Confucianism. The Confucian teaching of uprightness, righteousness, loyalty and benevolence as personal virtues were readily accepted by the Japanese, whose concept of makoto emphasizes sincerity. The Confucian concept of respect for age can be seen in the importance of filial piety in Japanese culture. The social position of the husband is the top of the household. Children are meant to take care of their parents when they grow up and work toward helping the family out. The importance of group harmony and wiliness to follow others rather than taking independent action based on individual judgment is still prevalent in Japanese culture today. Reciprocity is emphasized in social relations. Individuals do their best to reciprocate a favor received in order to maintain along lasting relationship.

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For most Japanese today, formal religion involves rites and services more than religious doctrines or discipline. Most Japanese accept Shinto and Buddhism simultaneously. The huge presence of Buddhism shows how much Japan is influenced by other cultures. Typically, Japanese marry before a Shinto altar and are buried, after cremation, in a Buddhist funeral. Many people pay a New Years visit to a Shinto shrine and visit family graves once or twice a year. Shinto is the native religion of Japan which means “the way of kami”. Kami can be interpreted as gods, deities, or extraordinary spirits. Shinto stemmed from animistic beliefs in ancient times. Ritual purification are very important to the Japanese. It is customary to sprinkle a pinch of salt on a person who comes back from a funeral to cleanse death pollution before the person enter the house. Because of the religious policy of the Tokugawa shogunate, all Japanese are Buddhist by default except those who have converted to Christianity or one of the new religions.

Meals in Japan range from traditional cuisine to more convenient Western cuisine. The diet and cuisine of the Japanese have been strongly influenced by the nature of their agriculture. Rice has always been the staple food and was eaten in large quantities until recent times. Younger people in Japan are moving away from the traditional rice-based dishes. The Japanese are mainly fish eaters being the number one fish importer in the world. An increasing number of people are moving toward regularly eating fast food. When it comes to shopping for food most Japanese citizens prefer to buy fresh food everyday even though they have refrigerators. Since shopping centers are too small for shopping carts people can only buy as much as they can carry. Because of this the food is package in small quantities compared to American stores. The standard size of a milk carton is one-quarter gallon.

Most Japanese citizen live in urban areas which tend to have a more Western styled food preference. For breakfast urban dwellers have a Western breakfast which consist of fruit, eggs, and toast. It takes less time to make this breakfast than the traditional Japanese breakfast. Traditional breakfast requires cooking rice, making miso soup, grilling dried fish, and slicing pickled vegetables. For lunch, a bento, a box lunch, is the most common way for eating away from home. For traditional wives, it is a labor of love to make a bento for outings and for those who eat at work and school. Foods are seasoned using soy sauce, fermented bean paste, salt, and sugar. Flavorings included pepper, wasabi, and sesame oil.

Japanese social customs are very important to everyday life in Japan. The social customs require people to bring back souvenirs from places they have visited and share them with their family and friends. Travelers that receive a parting gift are obligated to bring back a gift in return. There are two main gift giving seasons in Japan which is at the end of the year and the middle of the year. The first thing business men do they introduce themselves is present a business card. Punctuality is taken very seriously in the Japanese Culture. In the business world this means that arriving on time is very important. Also, in the business culture one most bow to the most senior business man in a meeting first. Each person is expected to greet everyone in the room individually. This shows how relationship-oriented that Japanese are in business. They rarely consider a quick deal. Partnerships are cultivated to endure for a long time.

Many holidays and festivals in Japan have their origin in tradition. Because rice cultivation was so important in the life of preindustrial Japan, many festivals are related to the annual cycle of planting, growing, and harvesting the rice. This cycle followed the four seasons that Japan has. During festivals, people take a break from work to rest and engage in recreational activities. The most important holidays are New Years Day and the Mid-Summer Buddhist festival. During these holidays, urban citizens usually return to their former homes in the countryside. The Cherry Blossom Festival is a holiday that celebrates the ultimate beauty of cherry blossoms. People have picnics under cherry trees in full bloom while enjoying alcohol and special lunch boxes.

In conclusion the Japanese culture is shaped by the many encounters it has had with foreigners. The language is heavily influenced by the Chinese language. The Chinese language is mixed with the native Japanese language to create the unique spoken and written language of today. Confucianism shaped the philosophical and social mindset of the Japanese.

The younger generations are starting to have more individualistic mentalities. Shinto and Buddhism are the main religions of Japan even though Shinto is more of a lifestyle than a religion. The Japanese diet for urban dwellers has strayed away from traditional dishes to more of a Western-style cuisine. The isolated country of Japan has now become like a sponge in soaking up other cultures and mixing them with their own.

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