City dwellers in Tokyo now use electronic cards to tap the train station gate to enter and exit. Money is added to these cards automatically, if the commuters choose to do so, and these cards can be paid for at the end of each month like credit cards. Japanese firms produce new devices at a dizzying pace and older inventions such as the toilet are updated so that one need not even push a lever to flush – a sensor will take care of that!
Yet, within the same country that is so forward thinking technologically, attitudes towards women working outside of the home after having had children, for instance, can be quite traditional. One young mother who lives in Tokyo noted that her female cousins who live outside of the city do not question staying home with their children and quitting any job they may have had before having children. She emphasizes that women in Tokyo “are different” and that they are not the majority in the country. Going back to work after having started a family is considered placing the family second in the eyes of many Japanese and this is frowned upon by a large number of citizens of the country.
Sushi creation – one of Japan’s subcultures – is also changing from a more traditional vocation in which trained chefs at family-owned restaurants who typically spend half a day preparing fish, are now competing against chain restaurants in which machines make sushi. The traditional tea ceremony, however, does not seem to have been impacted by the fast pace of the modern food and drink culture. Although there are shorter and longer versions of the ceremony, the central idea is that the tea-drinking process is a meditative practice that allows one to focus on the essential nature of life and just the process of drinking the hot liquid. Of course, there are many legends and rituals associated with the various tea ceremonies and it is important for Western visitors to Japan to recognize that the ceremony includes elements of purity and respect and that participating in a tea ceremony will create a special bond with one’s host.
One final aspect of the traditional food and drink culture of Japan is that individuals are taught to eat thirty different types of produce every day, and, according to one health-conscious woman in Tokyo, most women try to obey this rule religiously.
Finally, older generations are perhaps more respected by Japanese than occurs in some Western societies. At a Japanese wedding, for instance, it is not unheard of for the boss of the bride or groom to be asked to speak first – a gesture of respect that also allows the older generations to see that at least one member of the young couple is considered a diligent worker. (The invited superior may not be especially close to the bride or groom, but by affirming the positive characteristics of one or both members of the couple, the older generations can be assured, in some way, that the younger member of their family or that their friend has potential to succeed in the working world.) Parents are also honored, of course, as happens at many Western weddings, and this tradition of inviting the bride or groom’s boss to speak first may be fading as Japanese society changes and lifetime employment diminishes; however, it still occurs in the 21st century and is an example of how certain life events such as weddings differ from similar events that take place in Western countries.
In summary, Japan is a country where the traditional and modern co-exist and both facets of the society should be explored by visitors who hope to gain more than just a surface understanding of this intriguing society.
John Gower is a writer for Nerdwallet, a company that helps you save money by “doing the homework” for you.