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Culture: Culture

  • What are some of the major festivals in Japan?
    For a monthly listing of festivals and other events, go to Annual Calendar.

  • Why is the Tanabata festival held?
    Check out our tanabata description at Annual Calendar.

  • What is Setsubun?
    A decription of Setsubun can be found at our Annual Calendar.

  • What is the ceremony in which candles are floated down the river on origami boats?
    Go to Bon holidays.

  • What is the boys' festival?
    The boys' festival is actually now called Children's Day. For information on other festivals and events in Japan, see our Annual Calendar.

  • What do Japanese people do at Christmas? What food do they eat?
    Only about 1% of Japanese are Christians, but most Japanese families do celebrate at Christmas time, by putting up a small tree or eating a cake even though for most of them the day doesn't have religous significance. Japanese children especially like Christmas, and many of them receive Christmas presents. It's also popular for young couples to spend Christmas Eve together. The most popular Christmas food is cake, usually a strawberry or chocolate sponge cake. Most food stores take orders for these cakes long before Christmas itself. Turkey is quite rare in Japanese supermarkets, so not many people eat it. Instead, many Japanese eat fried chicken for Christmas dinner.

  • What happens at the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival)?
    The Hina Matsuri is a celebration for girls that takes place on March 3. Families with daughters display a special set of dolls in the weeks leading up to this day and eat special foods to mark the festival. You can find much more about the Doll Festival on our Hina Matsuri page or on our sister site, Trends in Japan.

  • What is Kodomo-no-Hi?
    Kodomo-no-Hi is the Japanese name for Children's Day, which is a national holiday celebrated on May 5. We have a page on the topic in our Annual Calendar section.

  • What are the major Japanese holidays?
    Check out the Annual Calendar for a complete listing of major holidays, festivals, and events in Japan.

  • When does swimming season start in Japan?
    Go to the section on the beginning of the pool season located in our Annual Calendar.

  • What is the year 2000 in the Chinese zodiac? I have found it listed as the year of the dragon and of the ox. Which is correct?
    2000 is the year of the dragon. The 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar, in that order. So the most recent year of the ox was 1997.

  • What year is it now according to the traditional Japanese calendar?
    It is now the nineteenth year of the Heisei Era. Heisei is the title given to the reign of the current emperor. A new era begins whenever a new emperor is enthroned.

  • How do I find out what year I was born in Japanese?
    The Japanese system of counting years is called nengo. It involves counting years from the beginning of the emperor's reign. This system has been used since modern times. The current emperor's reign is called Heisei, meaning "Attaining Peace." 2007 is the nineteenth year of Heisei, which began in 1989. Previous eras were called Meiji (1868-1912; "Enlightened Rule"), Taisho (1912-1926; "Great Righteousness"), and Showa (1926-1989; "Enlightened Peace").

  • What is the Japanese word for "welcome"?
    In Japanese we say, "yokoso."

  • How do you say "hello" in Japanese?
    In the morning, you say "ohayo," in the daytime you say "konnichiwa," and in the evening you say "konbanwa." To learn more, check out the Greetings lesson our Say It in Japanese section.

  • How do you say "I love you" in Japanese?
    "I love you" is "ai shiteru" in Japanese. As a rough guide to pronunciation, try saying "EYE SHE TELLU" and you will be pretty close. To learn more Japanese, visit our Say It in Japanese.

  • How many letters or characters are in the Japanese alphabet?
    Visit our Say It in Japanese to learn about the Japanese language.

  • We are studying Japan in school and would like to have a copy of the Japanese alphabet.
    Check out our Say It in Japanese.

  • Does Kids Web Japan have a Japanese version?
    A Japanese version of our site will be debuting in June. We'll be announcing more details soon, so stay tuned!

  • Who invented the word "Japan"? How do you write Japan in Japanese?
    The Japanese people call Japan "Nippon" or "Nihon." "Japan," the English name for the nation, is said to come from "Jipang," the name that the Italian merchant and traveler Marco Polo called the country, based on the southern Chinese pronunciation for the kanji characters representing "Nihon." The word for Japan is made up of two characters. The first means "sun," and the second means "root" or "origin."

  • How is Japanese writing read? Do you read it up and down, left to right?
    Traditionally, Japanese writing is written vertically, starting at the right of each page, so the lines go from right to left. Today, however, it's also common to write in the same direction as English - horizontally, from left to right.

  • What Asian languages besides Japanese use kanji writing?
    Aside from Japanese, Chinese characters are used in the Chinese and Korean languages, although today Koreans mainly use their own script, called han'gul. The word kanji, by the way, refers specifically to the Japanese adaptation of Chinese characters.

  • When should you add -san to a person's name? When you are speaking with them, or about them?
    There's no simple answer: In both cases it's polite to add -san after the name, but what you call a person depends on the relationship as well as the situation. If you're friends, you might use -chan or -kun instead or might not add anything at all. If you're talking about someone within your group (your family, company, and so on) with an outsider, it's considered proper manners to leave out the -san. For lessons on the Japanese language, visit our Language!

  • How do you count to ten in Japanese?
    Here is a list to help you count from one to ten:


    You can learn more useful japanese words and phrases in the Say It in Japanese.

  • When do Japanese use katakana?
    Katakana is one of two syllabaries used in Japanese writing, the other being hiragana. Katakana symbols are used to write foreign names, place names, and "loan words." (Loan words are words from English or other languages that are used in Japanese.) They are also used to write animal noises like wan-wan (dog) or nyaa-nyaa (cat). Katakana is also sometimes used to stress ordinary Japanese words, for example in adverts or magazine headlines. You can learn how to write and pronounce katakana and hiragana in our Say It in Japanese section.

  • Is it true that the Japanese language has its roots in ancient Finnish? If not, what language group is it related to?
    There are different theories on the origins of the Japanese language, but it's generally thought that its syntax (sentence structure) is related to the Altaic languages and also to Korean, and that it's had Malayo-Polynesian influences in its vocabulary and morphology (the way words are formed). Finnish is a Uralic language, and so it seems to be unrelated to Japanese.

  • What are some of the religions of Japan?
    Buddhism and Shintoism are the most common.

  • What is bunraku?
    Bunraku is professional puppet theater performed with joruri storytelling accompanied by music played on a shamisen. It has a history of 400 years, during which time it has influenced and been influenced by kabuki theater.

  • Can you tell me about ukiyo-e?
    Ukiyo-e means "pictures of the floating world." You will find everything you need to know about this unique style of woodblock printing in our Virtual Culture section. There is even a gallery featuring famous ukiyo-e pictures.

  • Where can I find some traditional Japanese folktales for children on the web?
    Look no further than Kids Web Japan's own Folk Legends of Japan.

  • What is the title of the world's first novel?
    The earliest surviving novel known today is Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji). You can read about it in the page "Who wrote the first novel in the world, and what was it about?" in our Language section.

  • What is the Tale of Genji about?
    The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari in Japanese) is a novel written by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman, in the eleventh century. It is considered to be the world's first ever full-length novel. The book tells the story of a handsome aristocrat named Genji and his many romances. The story is set against the backdrop of Japan's imperial court society. It is believed to be based on Murasaki's own experiences of the imperial court. The Tale of Genji is considered one of the masterpieces of Japanese, and indeed world, literature. It has been translated into many languages, including English.

  • What is a koto?
    A koto is a traditional Japanese muscial instrument. It is a plucked zither with 13 strings that is shaped like a half tube. To find out more about the koto and try your hand at playing a virtual koto, go to our Virtual Culture section.

  • What are some of Japan's traditional instruments?
    One instrument is the koto, which you can try out yourself in our Virtual Japanese Culture section.

  • Do you have any information about origami?
    Go to Origami Overview and Exploring Origami to learn about Japan's traditional art of paper folding and even try it yourself!

  • I'm looking for a book I read in school about a sick Japanese girl who tries to fold 1,000 origami cranes, hoping that this will make her well.
    This is based on a true story , which is retold in Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr with paintings by Ronald Himler, published in hardcover by Putnam and in paperback by Yearling Books. Ten years after an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Sadako died of leukemia as a result of radiation from the bomb.

  • Please could you give some details about the tea ceremony.
    The practice of drinking green tea came to Japan from China well over 1,000 years ago. The tea ceremony - a special way of making, serving, and drinking tea called sado ("way of tea") in Japanese - developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The tea ceremony takes place in a special room decorated with scrolls of calligraphy and seasonal flowers. The host prepares tea for the guests using traditional tea-making utensils and a method designed to bring inner peace to all the people in the room. To find out more and see pictures of tea-making, visit The Tea Ceremony on our sister site, Japan Access.

  • Can you please tell me if the Japanese tea ceremony is still practiced today?
    Yes, it's still practiced by some people, often as a hobby. You can find out about the art and its history in our "What is the Tea Ceremony?" page.

  • What kinds of gifts do people receive in Japan when they get married?
    Unlike in America, for example, where gifts such as household items are common, in Japan it is much more common to give a gift of money. The amount can vary - from 10,000 to 50,000 yen (100 to 500 hundred U.S. dollars) or even more.

  • What are some Japanese names for boys?
    Some examples of Japanese boys' names are Daisuke, Kentaro, Yuji, and Masayuki. Examples of girls' names are Akiko, Mai, Kaori, and Yumiko. Japanese names are written in kanji, each of which has one or more meanings. Parents try to choose names that sound good made up of kanji with positive meanings.

  • What are those cat dolls in Japan that have their left paws raised?
    These are called manekineko, which means "beckoning cat." This refers to the cats' left paws upraised in the traditional Japanese gesture for beckoning to people. Manekineko are often displayed at the front of shops and businesses that rely on heavy customer traffic, such as restaurants and bars. This is believed to "beckon" good fortune and business success.

  • What are the most popular boys' and girls' names?
    The top five names for baby boys and girls in 1996 were:

Girls NamesBoys Names

  • Did Japanese women used to paint their teeth black?
    Yes, until the nineteenth century some Japanese women used to dye their teeth black as part of their makeup. This was called ohaguro (black teeth). It was thought that black teeth made a woman look beautiful. The dye was made by soaking iron in tea or sake (rice wine) until the liquid turned black. Unfortunately the dye sometimes contained lead, which can make people sick or even kill them. Ohaguro has a long history but was most popular in around the 1700s. It continued until the late 1800s. In 1873, the Empress of Japan appeared in public with her own white teeth showing, and it seems that other women copied her. This may have been how teeth blackening died out.

  • From what age are people considered to be an adult in Japan?
    Generally in Japan, 20 is the age at which people are considered adults. That is the age from which people can vote in elections, smoke cigarettes, and drink alcohol. For information about celebrations for new adults, check out Coming-of-Age Day.

  • What are meishi?
    Meishi are business cards. Every businessperson and many other Japanese have their own meishi, with their name, job title, and the name, address, and phone number of their company printed on. Whenever businesspeople meet for the first time, they exchange meishi. This is a very important ritual in building trust and friendship between business partners. Also, it means they don't have to spend time writing down each other's details. They can get straight on with business!

  • What is otoshidama?
    Otoshidama literally means "jewel of the year." It is money that parents, grandparents, neighbors, and other adults give to children at New Year. The money is often given in small, decorative envelopes.

  • I'm trying to find stories and pictures about kappa. Is there a particular story title or traditional tale about the creature?
    The kappa is a mischievous supernatural creature that's said to live in Japanese waters. Many different versions of the kappa myth exist all over Japan, but no specific tales are widely known. It's often depicted as having a green, scaly body with webbed hands and feet, a turtle shell on the back, a beak-like mouth, cropped hair, and a dent on the top of the head that holds water.

  • How and when do children "come of age" in Japan?
    Find out the answer to this question at our page on Coming-of-Age Day in the Annual Calendar section.