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A Quick Guide to Japanese Culture and Cuisine

With so much to look forward to, the Tokyo Paralympics can’t get here fast enough! The opening ceremony, the torch relay journey, the breath-taking competitions, the inspiring stories and unbelievable athletic performances will take over our screens once again come July 2021. We’re getting a little teary-eyed just thinking about the upcoming medal ceremonies.  

But there’s something else we’re equally excited about, to see the unique Japanese culture and customs on full display. With traditions dating back thousands of years, cutting edge technology and the world-famous Japanese cuisine, there’s no doubt we’re in for a treat! In anticipation of the main event, we’re taking you on a tour of this amazing island nation’s culture and food. Enjoy!

Japanese cuisine is close to an art form

The words ‘Japanese cuisine’ no doubt bring to mind ramen bars, sushi restaurants and sashimi buffets. But there are so many other dining delights to enjoy on a trip to Japan. And if you’re in any doubt, according to the Michelin guide, Tokyo might just be the best place in the world to go out for a meal. It’s the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, more than  Paris and London put together. Given how meticulously prepared even the simplest dishes are, this should come as no surprise.

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit the Japanese capital, make sure you put a specialised tempura restaurant on the bucket list and don’t hesitate to pay a visit or two to the popular soba noodles eateries for an unforgettable Japanese cuisine experience.

Japanese cuisine

The Japanese breakfast is unlike any other meal

If you haven’t seen a Japanese breakfast before, you’ll likely mistaken it for a supper-time meal. The morning meal in Japan consists of combinations of several small dishes. Rice is the main star of the Japanese breakfast, but it’s usually enjoyed with natto, a soybean puree. Grilled fish and the beloved miso soup are part of the meal too, with all sorts of pickled vegetables as side dishes. Add a cup of tea for the complete experience.

If you’re curious about the unique breakfast traditions around the globe, we’ve already taken the culinary journey for you. Check out our fun guide and discover the different breakfasts around the world.

Japanese eating etiquette: good table manners are important

There are many components to the Japanese culture, but some of the most important ones to master are related to the meal time. Here are a few top rules:

  • In Japan it’s generally considered rude to eat while walking. When you are on the go, sitting on a bench and taking in the surroundings is the best way to enjoy a meal.
  • Traditionally, Japanese meals are eaten while sitting on a mat called tatami. Depending on the occasion, sitting on your knees, cross-legged or with legs to the side is acceptable.
  • Slurping is considered good manners and even encouraged.
  • Don’t rest your chopsticks on the plate or bowl. These should be placed on the wrapper they came with.
  • Host and guest placements are important in the Japanese culture. The host should sit in the middle of the table on one side, while the guest should sit on the side of the table that’s the furthest from the door, also at the middle point, opposite the host.
  • Soup is eaten using chopsticks. The solid pieces of food that is. Once you’re done, you can bring the bowl to your mouth and drink the broth.
  • When eating out, tipping is usually not accepted and the person who made the invitation must pay for the bill.
Japanese girl sitting at the table

Shoes off

Many places such as temples, private homes and even some restaurants are likely to have a ‘shoes off’ policy. It’s important to pay attention to signs, check to see if there are any slippers placed outside the door or a mat with shoes on, as these are clues that you need to take your footwear off before stepping inside. Given that traditionally meals are served on a tatami on the floor, it is important to keep the indoor space as clean as possible.

 

The intricate meaning of the Japanese bow

Bowing is a quintessential part of the Japanese culture and social convention. It comes in many forms, each with its own name. Choosing the right one depends on whether you’re trying to say ‘hi’, ‘sorry’ or ‘nice to meet you’, but also on the person’s age or status. The Japanese use the 15-degree bow called ‘eshaku’ to say hi or thank you to a friend and this is usually the bow visitors can use, in most situations.

For business meetings, the 30-degree bow called ‘keirei’ is often used. For deep apologies or greeting people with a higher status, the Japanese use the 45-degree bow called ‘saikerei’. You’ll be happy to know visitors are often forgiven for not knowing the ins and outs of this practice and a head nod will easily save the day if you’re not sure which bow method to choose.

Sports play a significant role in the Japanese culture

When it comes to sports, Japan has brought us some of the world’s most famous martial arts. Judo, karate and aikido are loved and practised all over the globe. But out of all the sports Japan is known for, sumo holds the first place in many Japanese hearts. Considered a national sport and with a history of more than 1,000 years, sumo won’t be an official sport at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Games, but it will be represented there with a two-day tournament. Meanwhile, martial arts fans should keep July and August 2021 free as karate is set to make its first appearance as an Olympic sport at the Summer Games in Tokyo.

We hope you enjoyed our dive into the unique Japanese culture and the amazing Japanese cuisine, and don’t forget Nestlé Cereals are proud partners of the British Paralympians and their journey to the Games in Tokyo. There are over 1,000 prizes waiting to be won and you could be one of the lucky winners! Discover more about the Nestle Cereals and ParalympicsGB partnership.

Plus, you can now Join Our Team on the journey to Tokyo. Sign up for exclusive, behind-the-scenes information about the ParalympicsGB and our preparation for the upcoming Games. Join our team at paralympics.org.uk.

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