The Japanese way of life is one I deeply admire. Ever since I visited Japan, I have, at some level, tried to put into practice many of the worthy Japanese habits and customs that stood out to me there.
At its core, Japanese culture is rooted in finding and living a meaningful life. Therefore, people in Japan typically act in a way that improves life – not only for themselves but for all people.
I don’t claim to be an expert on Japan because I am not Japanese, nor do I call the country home. So this article is based more on my personal observations while visiting the country.
I realize not everyone in Japan embodies all the characteristics below, just as not all people outside of Japan lack them. In fact, there are many people in western cultures who have customs or habits similar to the Japanese lifestyle.
But generally speaking, there are a few notable things that Americans and those in other western cultures could learn from the Japanese.
Here are 10 admirable Japanese habits that we should all embrace today.
Japanese habits to put into practice now
There are so many things I love about Japan. Not only is Japan extremely family friendly, but it is such a unique experience. Perhaps the best thing about Japanese culture is how vastly different it is from the United States, where I live.
Its uniqueness is one of the main reasons Japan is among the best places to visit in Asia on a family vacation.
So, if you want to know how to live like the Japanese, here are 10 habits that are part of daily life in Japan that you can start implementing today.
The Japanese take off their shoes inside
It is customary in Japan when entering a building, particularly a home, to take off your shoes. It isn’t something the host has to ask of their guests either. People in Japan do this voluntarily.
Removing your shoes upon entering a house is simply part of the Japanese way of life.
I wish this was the case everywhere. Personally, we never wear shoes inside our house, but as Americans, it feels rude asking our guests to take off their shoes, as well. So instead, most of our guests keep their shoes on when they come into our house and all the nasty germs on the soles of their shoes come inside with them.
Now, before you start thinking I’m an anal-retentive germaphobe, consider this. The average pair of shoes has 421,000 bacteria on the outside of them, including bacteria that causes pneumonia, meningitis, E.coli, and staph infections. Nearly ¼ of all shoes examined in a 2017 study tested positive for a strain of bacteria that causes potentially deadly diarrhea.
So, wearing your shoes in the house is not only a disgusting habit, it’s a potentially harmful one. I really don’t want all those nasty germs on the floor where my child sits and plays with her toys every day.
This is one of those Japanese habits that isn’t just admirable, it’s practical and pragmatic.
In Japan, many homes, ryokans, and even some of the hotels where we stayed have tatami flooring in the common spaces and rooms. This woven bamboo flooring is difficult to keep clean, which is one of the reasons the Japanese remove their shoes when entering.
But if you want to incorporate a part of the Japanese daily routine into your home, this is an easy place to start.
The Japanese eat more fish
Did you know 4 of the top ten oldest people to ever live in the world were from Japan? This shouldn’t come as a surprise, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country. So what are the Japanese doing differently than other developed countries?
A big part of their longevity of life can be attributed to the Japanese diet which consists of a lot of fish and seafood. Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and has been proven to help prevent heart disease and cancer.
But beyond heart health, you’ll find fish is also better for your waistline than other meats. You don’t see nearly as many people who are overweight or obese in Japan as you do in some other parts of the world, particularly in the United States where we live.
Perhaps that is because the American diet consists of more red meat and processed foods while fish and seafood are staples in Japan. So, if you want to live longer and avoid packing on the pounds, try replacing one or two of your weekly meals with fish instead.
The Japanese care about appearance
Not only do the Japanese stay in shape because of their seafood-rich diet, they just seem to care much more about their overall appearance, too. (At least more than your average American woman who wears leggings as pants.)
Before all of you leggings-loving women jump on my case, let me first state – I love my leggings and yoga pants. As someone who works remotely, I live in them. Every. Day. But let’s be real. Leggings and yoga pants aren’t exactly what you would call “fashionable”, especially when you compare them to what the Japanese wear.
From the teenage girls on the subway to the older women having afternoon tea together, I noticed many of the women in Japan were sporting stylish calf-length skirts. Those who wanted to wear something more traditional were in colorful kimonos.
I realized while in Japan that I needed to step up my efforts to look more presentable when I leave the house.
Appearance is important in the Japanese lifestyle, and it should mean more in other cultures, also. Your appearance sends a strong message to others without you ever saying a word. The message many of us are sending by wearing our gym clothes everywhere is that we are indifferent and don’t care. Those aren’t qualities I want to convey.
Additionally, tattoos are still considered somewhat taboo in Japan, although they are becoming increasingly more common and accepted. You’ll still find you cannot visit most onsens or public pools if you have large, visible tattoos.
But don’t stress if you have ink, there are some tattoo-friendly onsens in places like Hakone, Japan if you wish to have that experience. However, in general, people living in Japan tend to shy away from tattoos or other methods of permanent body altering.
The Japanese value and practice kindness
The world can always use more kindness. As a parent, if I could only instill one thing in my daughter it would be kindness. And in Japan, kindness is second nature.
My husband and I often make the remark that you just have to stand and look lost for 10 seconds in Japan and someone will stop to help you.
When we first arrived in Japan and were trying to figure out the train and metro system, a nice young woman came up to us, showed us how to use the rail system and even walked us to our train platform. She went out of her way and missed her own train to assist us, without us even asking for help.
We encountered similar scenarios throughout the country, enough that it led us to believe kindness is simply part of the Japanese way of life.
The Japanese love cartoons
Japan is the birthplace of anime. It’s one of the reasons why we so strongly recommend visiting Japan with kids. You’ll see anime and cute cartoon characters everywhere. They are on posters in the metro, on clothing and apparel, even on the side of buildings and decorating food.
In Japan, cartoons aren’t just for kids. There are plenty of cartoon-themed restaurants, Japanese anime movies for all ages, and anime stores that adults love and frequent, as well.
Why do I find this so appealing? It’s not because I want to channel my inner child. It’s because cartoons make people happy.
There seems to be so much anger and tension in our world right now. But it’s hard to be angry when you’re staring at a smiling cartoon panda, am I right?
The Japanese utilize public transportation
Europeans already know the value of public transportation because most European countries have incredible rail service. But Japanese rail service is even better than in Europe!
In Japan, public transportation is a way of life. And the Japanese have perfected it. Trains arrive exactly on schedule, not a minute late. And children learn from an early age how to navigate the rail system.
Why has America not embraced public transit and started building rail lines and metro systems to connect our massive country?! It baffles me.
Public transportation is better for the environment, keeping cars off roads and reducing pollution. It’s also a more effective way to get from one place to another. There isn’t the unexpected car wreck or traffic jam slowing things down and causing unnecessary stress.
The Japanese respect the environment
Everyone can agree that throwing garbage on the ground is a disgusting thing to do. Yet, walk down any street in New York City and you’ll find gum wrappers, cigarette butts, and fast food cups tossed on the ground.
Although Tokyo is even larger than New York City, they don’t have the same problem with litter. Surprisingly though, you won’t even find that many trash cans on the streets.
Instead, people will hold onto their trash until they get home or at least until they get to an area with a trash can or recycling bin.
The country as a whole has made huge strides in recycling, reducing the use of single use plastic, and preserving forests.
But it isn’t just how they handle trash or rubbish, nature is a valued part of Japanese culture. Just walk into any of the pristine gardens or down one of the beautiful nature trails in Japan and this will be obvious.
To truly understand and appreciate the real connection to nature in Japan, visit one of the unique places in Japan where wild animals and man live side-by-side in perfect harmony.
The Japanese put effort into every job
I will always remember our Uber driver in Tokyo picking us up wearing a business suit and white gloves. His SUV was immaculate. Then there was the sushi chef at a tiny restaurant we visited in Kyoto. I watched as he put so much work into the beautiful presentation of the sushi platter we ordered.
Regardless of the job, big or small, the Japanese seem to go the extra mile. In this world every job matters, and in Japan they seem to truly get that.
The Japanese practice reverence, mindfulness, and respect
The Japanese aren’t just kind, they are extremely respectful people. Respect isn’t just a Japanese habit, it is deeply ingrained into the way of life in Japan.
When visiting temples and shrines you’ll notice it is usually very quiet and serene inside, despite the fact that there are a ton of people there. That’s because the Japanese have a deep reverence for their culture and customs.
In a temple or shrine you won’t hear loud laughter, incessant chatting or even see people chewing gum. They would find all of those behaviors rude and out of place.
An even clearer example of this admirable habit is the customary Japanese bow. As a sign of respect, the Japanese often bow when greeting others and when walking into or out of a room.
Even the airport operations crew who work on the tarmac and escort the plane away from the gate bow when the plane pulls away. It’s a beautiful symbol of humility and respect.
The Japanese seek natural solutions for ailments
Whether it’s the antioxidants in herbal tea, the minerals in onsen waters, or acupuncture and reflexology, the Japanese believe in the healing powers of natural solutions.
They don’t instantly turn to prescription drugs for a quick fix to every ache or illness. Instead, they treat their bodies well from the inside out, and they take measures to actively protect themselves from illness.
Even before the global pandemic, it was always very common in Japan for people to wear a surgical face mask when outside or in crowds. This Japanese health practice prevents the spread of germs and limits exposure to pollution.
Why the Japanese way of life is awesome
Before we visited Japan, we were told by several people that visiting the country would be a complete culture shock. And while they were correct, the culture shock we experienced in Japan was a beautiful one. Japan remains one of our favorite countries.
Since returning home we have put many of these common Japanese habits into practice in our own lives. While I’ve never worn shoes in my house, I’ve become more assertive in asking others to remove theirs.
Kindness, cleanliness, and respect are all core values that we try to keep. We did this before we visited Japan, but are even more cognizant of it now. We also work harder toward seeing the value in every task we perform and taking pride in small accomplishments. But I’ll admit, I still love my yoga pants and wear them nearly every day. That’s a habit that will be hard to break.
Have a question or comment about and of these habits or parts of a Japanese daily routine? What are some of the Japanese habits you love (or hate) or unique things that stand out to you about the Japanese way of life? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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This guide to the best Japanese habits to embrace for your physical and mental health was first written in April 2019 but was updated in March 2023 for accuracy and current information.