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Japanese Lanterns: The Birth of Buddha’s Flame

For hundreds of years, Japanese lanterns have been an extremely prominent fixture of Japanese culture where these traditional forms of illumination have rapidly grown in popularity. The designs of these beautiful products have shifted into extremely distinct and different looks from their Chinese counterparts. With multiple purposes to them, Japanese lanterns play a big part in various festivals and celebrations that take place across the Japanese region. 

History of the Japanese Lanterns

In the 6th Century of the Asuku Period, stone lanterns were introduced to Japan by China to honor Buddha after Buddhism was introduced from the mainland of Asia. In Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism have been co-existing for hundreds of years, ever since the belief landed and it spread over the Asian continent. The strong link between religion and lanterns is the birth of a culturally significant mark. 

Cultural Importance

Japanese lanterns have become entwined with the culture in Japan. These lanterns are frequently associated with religious ceremonies, formal events and celebratory festivals. 
In Japanese culture, the different lanterns symbolise good fortune, joy, and longevity. The common law attached to the Ishidouru lanterns is that they are protectors from evil spirits. The flame within these Japanese lanterns is thought to be sacred as it represents fending off undesirable spirits.

Types of Japanese Lanterns 

The very first Japanese lantern was the Ishidouru. These are outdoor lanterns that tend to be located in gardens, and outside temples or pagodas. They represent the ancient architectural traditions rooted in thousands of generations of Japanese history. These lamps are made using stone, wooden or metal which all honor Buddhism. These types of Japanese lanterns are now cemented in Japanese history with the oldest  Ishidouru being situated in the Nara region of Japan.
Several other Garden Japanese lanterns have come about since the importation of lanterns into the Japanese culture. Japanese folk tend to have these lanterns in their gardens as they are known to protect homes and temples from evil spirits. 
The first significant Japanese lantern that has become iconic for Japanese culture, is the Chōchin lantern. This is seen outside of shrines and temples, and more commonly used to hang outside of Japanese bars and restaurants. These beautiful lanterns are also commonly used within business; showcasing the name of the company upon the striking, stretchy red washi paper in bold, black Shoji calligraphy. Businesses having these lanterns as a regular appearance outside their property brings togetherness to their neighbors and community. Chōchin lanterns are also thought to bring good fortune to the people and businesses they honor. 
The more modern Japanese lantern is the Andon – it’s literal meaning being ‘Lantern’. Typically used for interior purposes, these delicately crafted lanterns create magical atmospheres inside the buildings in which they are placed. The Andon Japanese lantern was the most popular indoor illumination device during the Edo period. Commonly created with a wooden frame and washi paper casing the framing, these lanterns can be considered developments of the Chōchin lantern or Bonbori lantern; both of which are similar in their design. 

Japanese Lantern Festivals 

You will often find Japanese lanterns as the focal point of many festivals and celebrations that take place across the numerous regions of Japan. 
The Toro Nagashi Festival is one of the major ceremonial events in the Japanese calendar, celebrated at the end of Obon. It is a beautifully haunting spectacle, tied with somber origins. The lanterns lit are thought to guide the spirits of lost loved ones home for a short period of time. It’s a common Japanese belief that all human life originates from water, and these meaningful flames represent the lost spirits returning to their aquatic home.
Arguably the biggest Japanese lantern festival in Japan is the Nagasaki Lantern Festival. This show-stopping event in Nagasaki City, is a nod to the strong links and connections China and Japan share. This is to celebrate the Chinese New Year which runs from the end of January to the beginning of February. This is a major winter event in both the Japanese and Chinese calendar. Yearly, it attracts over 1,000,000 people and is known to be an extremely colourful event. 
This festival, situated in Nagasaki City, nurtures a strong trading history with Japan. The lanterns featured throughout this event dress the city in vibrant colours of lighting, oozing the convivial culture of China.
These Japanese lanterns make for magnificent forms of light which are a stunning sight to see when you visit the country. At Atelier Japan, each and every single one of our unique products crafted by our traditional Japanese makers resonates with Japanese culture. While you’re here, why not take a browse of our handcrafted cultural pieces?
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Nomikai: Japanese drinking culture

Nomikai is a common drinking practice that is participated in, all over Japan. Groups of employees from Japanese companies are often found around at night, cheerful and merry and emerging from bars or izakaya from what is known as nomikai, an occasion where employees gather to drink after work. Let’s take a look at the practice of nomikai and why it is so popular amongst the businessmen and women of Japan.

What is it?

Nomikai is a drinking party phenomenon that is very particular to Japanese culture. Nomikai is a huge part of the culture in most places of employment, from schools to nightclubs. These drinking parties are often held in restaurants, bars or izakaya, usually with everyone seated at one large table in a separate section of the venue. Employees are usually expected to participate in some various nomikai, if not all, as it is widely considered a social aspect of work. Such nomikai parties focus on the bond between coworkers as a group, and are not considered private. 
Nomikai are often arranged when there is something to celebrate. Often employees meet up after work to drink together when someone is celebrating the completion of a work goal, a birthday, the departure of a colleague or the arrival of a new team member.

What happens?

Nomikai evenings tend to last for a few hours, during which employees can indulge in as much drinking as they like. In Japan, it’s not considered bad to drink a lot during a nomikai. Any remarks, mistakes or issues made under the influence of alcohol are brushed off as unimportant and won’t affect your bond with colleagues the next day at work. There are sometimes frank and emotional displays between coworkers over nomikai, regardless of position in the company, which may not occur in a normal workplace context: this phenomenon is called bureikō.
A tradition of nomikai is to always let another person pour your drink rather than doing it yourself. Often a younger employee known as kohai will fill the glass of an older employee, senpai. It is also generally regarded as unacceptable to pressure people into drinking alcohol or consuming more of it than they want at nomikai. Participants may drink non-alcoholic beverages at nomikai or leave a glass full to signal that they are not willing to drink any more alcohol.
The point of a nomikai is to bring all work colleagues together. As nomikai begins, the organiser of the party will give a brief welcome speech, followed by the manager who often offers words of reflection or encouragement. This speech is celebrated by a toast and everyone begins to eat and drink. It’s also customary that if there are any new employees or guests that they give a self-introduction to the other team members.
Once celebrations have begun the group then often breaks up into smaller groups where employees who are closer friends will continue the evening at another izakaya or bar. Those who go on to continue celebrating after the nomikai will be a part of a ‘second meeting’ known as nijikai, an after-party of the party where employee presence is no longer mandatory. In some cases, there is also a sanjikai which is a third after-party meeting.
Nomikai is often concluded after a few hours where everyone stands and claps in unison. There are two main styles of clapping: ippon-jime and sanbon-jime. These translate roughly to “one-clap ending” and “three-clap ending”. The ending of the nomikai sometimes happens whilst employees sing the company or school song or with a salute to the organiser, manager or honoured participant.


Bonenkai is a form of end of year nomikai where all company employees are invited and strongly encouraged to attend the ‘gathering to forget the year’. The goal of a bonenkai is to forget any arguments or troubles that have occurred during the year and to celebrate the coming year. Often, the management usually tries to subsidize the price of participation in the bonenkai, in order to encourage as many employees as possible to come.
At Atelier Japan, Japanese culture runs through all our products’. From generation to generation, our makers have devoted time and skill to creating the most unique pieces of Japanese craft for you to enjoy. Visit the Atelier Japan website to find an exquisite range of traditional Japanese tea, pottery, jewellery and silverware and let us bring traditional Japanese design to your home.

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Bushido: The way of warriors

From as early as the eighth century through to modern times, bushido was the code of conduct for Japan’s warrior classes. The word “bushido” comes from the Japanese roots “bushi” meaning “warrior,” and “do” meaning “path” or “way, when translated bushido means “way of the warrior.” Bushido was followed by Japan’s samurai warriors and their precursors in feudal Japan, as well as much of central and east Asia. Let’s take a look at what bushido is, and how it came to be.

What is bushido?

Bushidō is a Japanese collective term for the many codes of honour and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life. Those who follow bushido believe in an elaborate list of virtues including frugality, righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, honour, loyalty, and self-control. 
Bushido focuses on ethics, rather than a religious belief system. In fact, many samurai soldiers believed that they were excluded from any reward in the afterlife or in their next lives, according to the rules of Buddhism, because they were trained to fight and kill in this life. Nevertheless, their honour and loyalty had to sustain them, in the face of the knowledge that they would likely end up in the Buddhist version of hell after they died.
The ideal Samurai warrior was supposed to be immune from the fear of death. With the only fear they had being the fear of dishonour and loyalty to his daimyo, a feudal lord in shogunal Japan, motivated the true samurai. If a samurai felt that he had lost his honour, or was about to lose it, according to the rules of bushido, he could regain his standing by committing a rather painful form of ritual suicide, which was called “seppuku.”

The honourable history of bushido

Many early literary works of Japan talk of warriors, but the term bushido didn’t appear in any text until the Edo period. From the literature of the 13th to 16th centuries, there exists an abundance of references to military ideals, although none of these were viewed as early versions of bushido. During the early modern era, these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper levels of warrior society, and recommended as the proper form of the Japanese man of arms. The sayings of Sengoku-period retainers and warlords were generally recorded or passed down to posterity around the turn of the 16th century. In a handbook addressed to “all samurai, regardless of rank”, Katō states:
“If a man does not investigate into the matter of bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death.”
Between the 16th and 19th century, the samurai class played a central role in the policing and administration of the country. At this time there was bushido literature that contained much thought relevant to a warrior class seeking more general application of martial principles and experience in peacetime, as well as a reflection on the land’s long history of war.

Bushido in modern times

After the samurai ruling class was abolished in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, Japan created a modern conscript army. Although you might think that bushido would fade away, Japanese nationalists and war leaders continued to appeal to this cultural ideal throughout the early 20th century and World War II. Even today the morals of bushido continue to resonate in modern Japanese culture. 

An insight into bushido

  • Righteousness (義 gi)

Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. 

  • Heroic Courage (勇 yū)

Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. 

  • Benevolence, Compassion (仁 jin)

Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong.

  • Respect (礼 rei)

True warriors have no reason to be cruel. 

  • Honesty (誠 makoto)

When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done.

  • Honour (名誉 meiyo)

Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves.

  • Duty and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)

Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said and all of the consequences that follow.

  • Self-Control (自制 jisei)

There are many areas of Japanese culture that have come and gone, but some, like bushido, have stayed for generations. Atelier Japan aims to keep traditional Japanese craft alive for as long as possible. Visit our website to browse our collection of handcrafted tea, silverware, pottery, jewellery and fans, and add a piece of Japanese history to your home.

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Karate: An ancient art

Karate is a martial art that was developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom, in what is now known as the Okinawa Prefecture. Developed from the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts under the influence of Kung Fu, karate has an incredible history and has come far over the last few years. Let’s take a look at this ancient martial art practice and how it has come to be so popular all over the globe.

What is Karate?

Karate is now predominantly a striking art, using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historically, and in some modern styles, grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints and vital-point strikes are also taught. Karate is a form of self-defence and was created at a time when weapons were banned by invading Japanese forces.
Karate has three main sections to be mastered when training, these are:

  • Kihon, learning the basic techniques or fundamentals;
  • Kata, the training of form and the specific order and way of using techniques;
  • And Kumite, which is to learn how to fight using those techniques.

A long history

In its current form, karate is less than 200 years old, however it has roots that date back thousands of years. The art originated on the island of Okinawa and in its early form was heavily influenced by ancient Chinese martial arts, collectively known as Kung Fu. 
Very little is known of where the exact origins of karate came from before it appeared, but one popular theory states that it came from India over a thousand years ago and was brought to China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidarma (“daruma” in Japanese). This ancient legend suggests that Bodhidarma arrived in Shaolinsi and began teaching Zen Buddhism, a style of temple boxing based on exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body. 
During the early 1900s, Gichin Funakoshi, a school teacher from the island of Okinawa, introduced karate to mainland Japan where it started to become more popular year after year. Karate became especially popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of westernised karate movies and by the late 1970s, martial arts films had formed a mainstream genre. Karate schools then began appearing all over the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art. By 2015, karate was featured on a shortlist along with baseball, softball, skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board announced they were supporting the inclusion of all five sports 

Culture in combat

Karate is a non-contact and unarmed martial arts discipline, employing kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. People who engage in karate often practice their techniques by executing blows against padded surfaces or wood. Pine boards up to several inches in thickness can even be broken by the bare hand or foot of a karate expert. Timing, tactics, and spirit, however, are also considered just as important as physical strength.

All about the outfit

One thing that most people think of when they hear karate is the outfit. When individuals practise karate, they wear special clothes called a karategi. The karategi is made up of a white jacket, white trousers and often a coloured belt with the purpose of displaying the student’s rank. In karate, the belt symbolises how long you have trained rather than how good you are. It’s interesting to note that different schools of Karate have different colours of belts for their ranks, but typically black belts are of the highest rank.
At Atelier Japan, we believe in preserving Japanese culture. Our brand is home to the finest traditional Japnese products that have been handcrafted by artisanal makers all across Japan to share with those interested in the culture and process of each collection. Explore Atelier Japan to discover our range of history and heritage-filled collections of tea, fans, silverware, pottery and jewellery.

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Unique Traditions: Celebrating a Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, age makes all the difference. In Western culture, your birthday is the one day of the year where everything is about you, but celebrating a Japanese birthday is influenced by how old you are. 

A joyful history

Birthdays are acknowledged and celebrated in Japan, however, at first they weren’t celebrated until after the Second World War. After the 1950s there was a great influx of American and Western cultures such as fashion, food and celebrations such as Christmas, meaning that birthday celebrations soon became the norm. Celebrating a Japanese birthday didn’t occur as Japan generally focuses on the group rather than the individual and birthdays were seen as a more personal and private affair.
The concept of celebrating the day you were born was initially a foreign concept to the Japanese. Before, the Japanese had only one ‘birthday’, which was the New Year’s Day, since everyone believed that they got older on that day and celebrated together. New Year remains a very special day in Japan and the old custom of giving children and teenagers money as a congratulatory gift still remains, however, a Japanese birthday is now a popular occasion.

Children’s Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, it’s children who steal the limelight. Parents organise a small gathering, a cake – usually, a white Victoria sponge with cream is customary – and the number of candles depends on how old the birthday boy or girl is turning. There is no birthday song, so the traditional English version is sung, in English, when the candles are blown out, similar to Western traditions.

Adult birthdays

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, celebrations don’t stop completely when turning 18. When arranging a birthday, often individuals don’t organise or pay for them. It is customary for friends to organise a party for the one who has a birthday, and all bills are covered by the guests, in order to let the person whose birthday it is enjoy the day without worrying about money. Here, paying for the event counts as a form of group gift.
Many Japanese couples tend to reserve their actual birthday day for their partners. Generally, they go on a date and spend the day or evening together to celebrate. When it comes to buying gifts for a birthday, accessories are favoured gifts and are popular as they can be worn practically every day and can remind the recipient of their significant other.

Japanese birthday festivals

Aside from normal birthdays and New Year, there are several special days throughout the year that celebrate getting older. 7-5-3 day is where girls aged seven and three and boys aged five and three are dressed in kimonos and taken to shrines to pray for health and a long, happy life. When celebrating this birthday, the children are also given a chitose ame, or thousand-year candy, to wish for a thousand years of health. 
Another birthday that is celebrated is the Coming of Age Day which focuses on Japanese youths reaching adulthood at the age of 20. This Japanese birthday is held on the second Monday of January and you will find young people dressing in suits or kimonos when they go to the office to be officially recognised as adults. On this Japanese birthday, young people will usually celebrate by going out drinking with friends, as 20 is the age that you can legally drink in Japan, as well as vote.
Japan has been influenced by Western culture for many decades but a lot of its tradition and culture still remains. Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or enjoying their culture, there are lots of ways Japan has changed due to Western influences. From sake to silverware, fans to fashion, Japan is driven by influence, culture and its artistic nature. At Atelier Japan, our collection of traditional Japanese products is just waiting to be discovered, browse our makers to explore our range of luxury handcrafted Japanese goods that would make the perfect gift for any Japanese birthday.
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Japanese Instruments: The sound of Japan's history

There are a whole host of traditional Japanese instruments used to play Japan’s traditional selections of music. Traditional Japanese instruments are musical instruments often used in the traditional and folk music of Japan. They comprise a range of string, wind, and percussion instruments, from those that were invented in Japan to others that have evolved and developed into Japanese instruments and varieties over time after arriving from other countries such as China. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Japanese instruments and why people enjoy their sound and feel so much.


When it comes to Japanese instruments made from string, the koto is the most popular choice. These Japanese instruments come in a variety of shapes and structures. Most types of kotos consist of a body made from wood accentuated by strings which are stretched across the middle that are plucked with a pick or with fingers and nails to play the music. The koto was an instrument that was favoured by Japanese aristocrats and was often used for entertainment, however, since the arrival of the Heian era, it has become an instrument used mostly for religious ceremonies and festivals.


Japanese instruments can take on many different forms. The taisho-goto is an instrument that comprises of strings, similar to a guitar and buttons that are used to change key. While  Japanese instruments generally use silk strings, the Taisho-goto uses metal strings and is constructed to produce notes of the Western 12-note scale on its keyboard.


The percussion famiy is home to a whole host of popular Japanese instruments. Wadaiko is a popular type of Japanese drum that is crafted by stretching leather skin over a wooden body, and releases sound when the skin is struck with varying levels of force. In Japan today, wadaiko are used mostly for religious festivals, kabuki and noh performances, ceremonies at shrines and temples, and during summer festivals.


Alongside string and percussion instruments, Japan is also known for popular Japanese instruments that belong to the wind family. The nohkan is a type of flute that is used during noh performances, along with the kotsuzumi, otsuzumi, and taiko. The nohkan, is the only melodic instrument used on stage during noh performances and creates a unique sound that produces a feeling of tension. 


The biwa is a plucked string instrument that was first popular in China and then spread throughout East Asia. These unique Japanese instruments are said to have arrived in Japan from China during the Nara period. The instrument is comprised of a water-drop shaped body with a handle, and while there are generally 4 strings, 5-stringed varieties also exist.


Many Japanese instruments come from ancient tribes and cultures from all over the country. The Ainu are an indigenous people that live in Hokkaido, the northernmost region of Japan. The mukkuri is a simple instrument used by the Ainu that consists only of a piece of bamboo with a string attached. The indigenous Ainu people, who fear otherworldly beings and revere nature, would play the mukkuri while residing in the forests.


Japanese instruments can often be found in traditional Japanese shrines. The kagura-suzu, is a type of bell that is rung as a way of purification and invoking the divine spirit. The miko , the shrine maiden, uses this instrument as she dances the traditional kagura-mai dance. The kagura-suzu has a clear and dignified sound as it is often used during Shinto rituals.


Sanshins are stringed Japanese instruments that are used in Okinawa. The Sanshin consists of a wooden body with a section of snakeskin, in which three strings of differing thickness are plucked to produce music. If you want to hear the unique sound of the sanshin it is recommended that you visit restaurants that serve Okinawan cuisine in large cities like Tokyo, as sometimes you will be lucky enough to hear the sanshin. 
Much like the craft that goes into creating Japanese instruments, at Atelier Japan all of our pieces are handcrafted by the most skilful artisans, encapsulating true detail and design. From fans and jewellery to pottery and tea, our collections are as bespoke as their designer. Visit the Atelier Japan website to browse our unique pieces and add a touch of traditional craft to your life.
japanese instruments     japanese instruments    japanese instruments    japanese instruments

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Onsen: Relaxing with a auspacious view

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, with the term also extending to cover the bathing facilities and traditional inns frequently placed and enjoyed around a hot spring. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered throughout all of its major islands. Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor and indoor baths. Onsen baths may be either publicly run by a municipality or privately, often as part of a hotel, ryokan, or bed and breakfast. Let’s take a look at some onsen etiquette and how you can kick back and relax in one of Japan’s natural hot springs.


One thing to note about onsen if you haven’t encountered them before is the dress code. Sometimes being the factor that puts individuals off visiting onsen can be the no swimwear policy. You may be anxious at first, but once you have bared all, it doesn’t take long to get used to it. For those who fancy something more private, there are many traditional ryokan inns where the guest rooms have private rotenburo baths attached and in some inns, public baths are available for private use upon request. Another onsen alternative is to visit a bath that has predominantly milky water, meaning visibility is limited.


Cleanliness is a large part of the Japanese onsen experience. The idea of Western practices of washing yourself in a bath is seen as unhygienic in the eyes of the Japanese. When visiting a communal sento or onsen it’s important to keep the water as clean as possible, which means showering before entering the spring. 
Every onsen in Japan has a row of showers that go around the outside of the bath. Soaps, shampoos, and conditioners are usually provided, though you can also bring your own if you choose. It’s key to remember that you are expected to sit down using one of the stools provided whilst you wash; it’s considered bad manners to stand whilst you wash, as you could splash someone next to you. It’s also important to ensure that you rinse thoroughly to ensure that no soap enters the bathwater. Although not as important, locals sometimes rinse themselves under the shower after soaking in the onsen or if they are returning from a sauna or steam room.

Entering the water

To ensure that the onsen is as clean as possible, it’s important to know that if you have long hair, you will be required to tie it up or wrap it in a small towel. Although you are encouraged to wash your hair in the shower beforehand, this is to maintain the cleanliness of the onsen by ensuring that hair doesn’t get into the water. Even if your hair is short, you are advised against putting your head under the water to avoid being exposed to any bacteria that could cause infection.


At any onsen in Japan, you will be given a small and a large towel, alternatively, there will be a choice to rent or sometimes you can bring your own. Large towels are used for drying yourself and should be kept in the changing room, whilst the small towel is used for washing and can be taken into the communal bathing area. You can even take your small towel into the bath with you, but you mustn’t let it enter the water, so many guests keep their small towels on their head whilst relaxing in the onsen.


Tattoos can be seen as something of a taboo in Japan, which means that most onsen across the country has a ban on tattoos. If you have an unnoticeable or small tattoo, you may be able to enter the onsen if you cover it with a plaster or bandage. If you have larger tattoos that are difficult to cover, you may not be allowed to enter. However, if you really wanted to try out these hot springs, you could visit ryokan inns where there are private rotenburo baths or onsen that can be rented for private use.
At Atelier Japan, we encourage our customers to explore Japanese culture. From our handcrafted inlay jewellery to our fans that have been produced using ancient techniques, there is a piece of Japanese culture in each and every product in our collection. Visit the Atelier Japan website to browse our auspacious products and purchase your own piece of Japanese craft.
Onsen     Onsen      Onsen

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Japanese Etiquette: A guide to the unique culture of Japan

Japan is widely known to have a very unique society, especially when it comes to Japanese etiquette and even more so when compared to its neighbouring countries in North East Asia. It can be quite difficult for Westerners to understand these differences and usually, as long as you act polite and respectful, a Japanese person would not expect you to know all the ins and outs of their culture and what is classed as Japanese etiquette. However, there are some simple insights that can help anyone trying to break into the business world in Japan and ensure you will make the most out of any experience with a Japanese company.

First Impressions

Japanese etiquette is highly important when it comes to first impressions. The first impression that you create when meeting a prospective Japanese business partner is crucial to the success of the whole relationship. In Japan, tardiness is considered impolite, and often Japanese people will arrive early with the general view that it is much better to be too early than too late, punctuality is a large part of Japanese etiquette. So, if you think that you might be running behind even by just a few minutes, it’s best to let them know.
When meeting someone for the first time, it’s important to know the custom of giving and receiving business cards, as this interaction will establish how the person views you and create an affiliation which leads to trust. If you are given a business card, ‘meishi’, Japanese etiquette requires that is to be presented in both hands with the face up. The polite response is to take the card in both hands and read it carefully before putting it away neatly. Commenting on the card will also go a long way. A big cultural faux pas would be to stuff the card in a back pocket and sit on it, throw it away or write on it in front of the person. This is an easy mistake to make, so this a custom of Japanese etiquette to be careful of.
The society in Japan is very hierarchical with a strong emphasis on age, with the older person being superior. It is traditional Japanese etiquette to refer to each other by the person’s surname plus the suffix ‘san’, and remembering this will pleasantly surprise the person you are meeting.


Courtesy is a good word to remember when visiting Japan or meeting Japanese people; Japanese society is very honorific, and the idea of ‘face’ and loss of it is an incredibly important part of Japanese etiquette, almost to an extreme level. If you are associating with a Japanese person, anything that causes you embarrassment or loss of face would also affect them. The language used by the Japanese will be polite and tempered and it is not normal for them to use aggressive or assertive language. When dealing with a difficult situation, it is Japanese etiquette to stay calm as this will help to resolve any problems sooner.


Typically, Japanese etiquette suggests that the purpose of a meeting in Japan is to affirm your relationship and endorse prepared work rather than discussing new ideas. New proposals will often not be accepted in the meeting, so don’t panic if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere. Usually, many of the associates will attend, particularly if you are not that familiar with each other. It is traditional of Japanese etiquette for the most senior representative to talk and the junior associates to remain silent, although this is now changing to match the increasing need to speak English in business relationships.
Don’t worry about getting an immediate response to the ideas that you bring to the table as this is not typical of Japanese etiquette. Whoever you are meeting represents their whole company and therefore will need to return to their colleagues and discuss extensively. Japan is a consensual society where everything must be viewed meticulously, which can create a slow process that other countries are not used to. The idea behind this way of conducting business is that when the respective parties are ready to go forward with an idea, it will have been so extensively planned that everything will then move very quickly and effectively.

Language and Relations

Japanese is linguistically very different from both English and other Indo-European languages and therefore can be difficult to grasp. Structurally, Japanese is the opposite of English, you’ll find that simple sentences in English become quite long when translated into Japanese, and vice versa.
There is a concept relating to Japanese business arrangements that the relationship comes first and the business will follow.  The Japanese traditionally have social events after formal events, and there are several different layers to these. The idea behind this piece of Japanese etiquette is to create a more relaxed and personal atmosphere to build trust. These social interactions can also be very fun and give you a chance to sample traditional sake or Japanese beer with locals who know all the best ones.

Things Not To Do

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are a few things to avoid doing in Japanese company that are culturally very different and go against Japanese etiquette. Don’t blow your nose in public; the Japanese will instead sniff. This is quite difficult for westerners to get their heads around as the opposite is polite respectively, but in order to avoid awkward stares, this is a good rule to follow. Furthermore, slurping when eating noodles and soup is considered polite, showing that you enjoy the food. So you can forget your grandma’s rules about making noise when eating and relax. Swearing is not part of the Japanese language, instead, they would express disrespect in different ways. It’s not natural for them to openly express disrespect to others, although unfortunately Western swear words are making their way into young Japanese culture, particularly the media.
If you keep in mind these Japanese etiquette rules, they will help you make the most of this wonderful country and reciprocate the respect that is already present within Japanese society. If you are looking to discover more on Japanese culture and tradition, why not take a look around the Atelier Japan website where you can find an exquisite range of traditionally handcrafted fans, tea, pottery and jewellery. 

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Japanese Business Etiquette: Building bridges overseas


Japanese Business Etiquette is quite separate from others, even from those in neighbouring countries in North East Asia.  Amongst themselves there is a clear Japanese Business Etiquette in terms of hierarchical structure and coded behaviour for interaction. The most noticeable feature to external eyes is the bowing culture.  There are subtle differences between bows, reflecting both social and gender differences.
The good news is that none of this should concern people who are not Japanese!  A simple rule of thumb for a UK national dealing with the Japanese is to act politely in the way that you normally would and this will usually be more than enough.
There are, however, a few things that might be worth bearing in mind.


In Japan it is impolite to be late.  Japanese will err on the side of being much too early, and wait, rather than be late.  If you are going to be late, then it is important to contact your host in advance and warn them, if a delay is inevitable.  At receptions, Japanese turn up exactly on time and, when the senior man present decides it is time to go, those in his group will all leave together.

Business Cards and Introductions

In Japan the exchange of business cards is important.  It establishes affiliation which brings the ability quickly to trust.  A Japanese will hand you his business card, usually with both hands, with the face up and script towards the recipient, so that it is easy to read.  The normal response is to spend a little time looking and perhaps to make a little small talk, such as “I see your office is in Tokyo” or something similar.
You should not write on someone else’s business card when they are present.
When meeting several people for the first time, it is often customary to place cards in front of you, with cards reflecting the seating plan, so that you can remind yourself who is who.
Business cards should be put away carefully, preferably in a business card holder, but a wallet or Filofax or similar neat storage is fine.  Best not to follow one senior example of throwing all cards away as you leave a function! Also, do not put in your back pocket and then sit on them.
For those introducing people, particularly in a business context, there is a responsibility to ensure that the introduction has a good chance of success.  The role of the intermediary in Japanese culture is highly respected and important. If an introduction leads to a bad experience, the reputation of the intermediary will be adversely affected.


Japanese usually call each other by surname plus san. First names are rarely used, unless someone has spent a long time living abroad and says that he prefers it.
When referring to yourself or a close colleague you would not normally use the suffix “san”.
Amongst Japanese themselves, there is a strong sense of social hierarchy, generally age related.  Two Japanese from the same background will refer to themselves as senior (senpai) and junior (kouhai).  This relative relationship is lifelong, even though the junior may in due course exceed his senior’s career trajectory.  Chairmen and Presidents of companies are obliged to consult with their predecessors (but not necessarily follow advice) when making major strategic decisions.  


The concept of face is common throughout East Asia, but probably most important in Japan.  To lose face is to be humiliated and whilst no one wants to lose face in negotiations, the Japanese will often go to some lengths to ensure that their counterparts do not lose face either.  Consequently, strong or assertive language will not normally be used by them, and they will be confused by aggressive language or behaviour from others in meetings.
The watchword is courtesy.  The Japanese will normally go out of their way to be courteous and will greatly appreciate similar behaviour.


Japanese business culture is still male dominated.  Women are often in larger teams but women in positions of real responsibility are still rare.  Things are slowly changing, and the current government is committed to changing this, but a western business person is likely to be struck by the relative lack of female participation.


Japanese companies will often bring several representatives to a meeting.  Government meetings may well be smaller. The less they know you, the more are likely to attend.  Traditionally, only the senior Japanese representative will speak, and others (more junior) will say nothing.  This has begun to change, at least with those who are more comfortable in English. From a Japanese perspective, a meeting’s purpose is to confirm relationships and endorse work already prepared.  It is not a proactive environment in which new ideas will be immediately accepted, although new ideas can be introduced, as long as there is no expectation of immediate response.


Japan is a consensus society, with everyone buying in to what has officially been agreed.  Consequently, each individual represents his whole organisation at meetings. Do not, therefore, expect decisive responses to suggestions which have been made for the first time at a meeting.  They will need to go back and consult widely before responding. The best meetings will have been well prepared in advance.
A secondary aspect of this consensus culture, is that Japanese effectively do their “due diligence” before committing to a project.  The process can be time consuming and frequent questions will often be repeated. This is because they have come from a different stakeholder, and the answers will be checked for consistency.  If an inconsistency is not explained, it may cause confusion.
The corollary of this initial slow decision making is that, when consensus is reached and a decision is made to commit, the whole organisation will swing behind and move extremely quickly and effectively.  
One of the means by which consensus is achieved for major decisions is through a process called ‘nemawashi’.  Literally, this means going around the roots of a tree when transplanting, and refers to the wide networking through all stakeholders that needs to be undertaken when proposing major change.  
Culturally, both through their education system and the collective approach to society, Japanese are encouraged to focus on precise detail, and to be wary of a conceptual approach.  Change tends to be incremental (kaizen means continuous improvement) and radical change is unsettling.  Processes are agreed through wide consultation; once agreed they can be repeated forever.  However, even the smallest change or discretion can be seen as too much for an individual to approve.  Creating precedent is time consuming, and something that most Japanese would prefer to avoid.

Face value

As part of the collective or consensual society, a Japanese is representing the group at any official event.  He will only answer a question with approved wisdom. Pressure to give an honest opinion will cause confusion.  The Japanese word for the official opinion is ‘tatemae’ or outward face.  Genuine personal opinion is called ‘honne’.  This may be obtained when your trusted relationship has deepened, or during a social event when alcohol has loosened inhibitions.  As all discussion under the influence is considered ‘off the record’, you cannot refer to this in subsequent meetings, even if everyone knows what has been said.


The Japanese language is linguistically extremely different from English and other Indo-European languages.  Syntactically, sentences are constructed in the opposite way so, when interpreting, it can take until the end of the sentence before the meaning is clearly positive or negative.  Translated answers will also seem long as interpreters will use more formal, honorific language. Japanese all learn English at school for several years, but the majority do not practice regularly and have little self confidence.  
Many businesses will have trusted English speakers, but the layer of confidence is often very thin.  Colleagues with less exposure to international contacts may have very little competence, although listening ability is often better than they let on.
Ambiguity is often a virtue in Japanese, as traditionally it can allow both parties to emerge from a meeting with face intact.  Business meetings will need clarity, but this is usually achieved by coordinating the agenda and content before a meeting so that there are few surprises.
Taking an interpreter to meetings in Japan, at least until you are confident about the English language capability of your counterparts, is a sensible precaution.


Traditionally, Japanese will want to add social events to formal meetings.  This allows a more relaxed setting in which to get to know each other and build the necessary trust.  The Japanese word “nomu” means to drink, normally alcohol, and “nommunication”, is the process of talking in a relaxed setting with a drink and some food.  The Japanese will tell you proudly that this is the most important part of any business relationship. Karaoke often follows at a second party, but is not obligatory!
When in a social setting, you will probably find that the Japanese sense of humour is quite closely aligned to British humour.  They love word play and subtle irony. You will also find that their English language ability improves with a couple of drinks!

Long term relationships

It is often said that Japanese make relationships and that business will follow.  There is some truth in this. Taking time to build relationships is of critical importance and once made, you can expect them to be honoured for a long time.  Breaking off a business relationship, particularly abruptly, can badly affect a reputation.
Japanese business etiquette is something often seen in Japan as well as their other customs. Japan continues to take care to support these traditions. When you order from Atelier Japan, you’re directly supporting the culture and the spirits of Japanese makers that have kept traditional Japanese craft alive for centuries. Browse our website to discover more of our range of artisinal fans, tea, jewellery and pottery.

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Kabuki: All there is to know about the traditional Japanese dance-drama

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese popular drama with singing and dancing that is performed in a highly stylized manner. This Japanese art is a rich blend of music, dance, mime and spectacular staging and costuming. Kabuki has been a major theatrical form in Japan for almost four centuries, dating right back to the early 17th century. The term Kabuki originally suggested the unorthodox and shocking character of this art form. In modern Japanese, the word is written in three characters, with each syllable translating to ‘song’, ‘dance’ and ‘skill’. Let’s delve into the rich past of this traditional Japanese art form and what makes it so unique.

A step back in time

Kabuki originates back to the early 1600s when a woman named Izumo no Okuni began performing a special new style of dance that she had created. This Japanese play caught on almost instantly. Japanese women began learning Kabuki dances and performing them for audiences, these dances had a very suggestive nature and in 1629 the government banned women from performing them. From this period, men took over the dance. These new male dancers were typically young and were referred to as ‘wakashu’. Once more, in 1652, the government banned young males from dancing as it became common for brawls to break out at performances.
Kabuki made its return during the ‘Golden Age’ which lasted from 1673 to 1841. The dances began to have a more formal structure and lasted all day from sunrise to sunset. Despite Kabuki theatres growing in popularity, just as Kabuki reached its peak, many of the theatres were destroyed during World War II, with forces banning the play. This ban lasted until 1947, however, after the war, Japan tried to rebuild and reestablish itself with the people of Japan rejecting some traditional ways, and so the art of Kabuki was almost abandoned. Just as Kabuki faded out of society, a director began to produce plays that revitalised Kabuki, bringing it into modern popularity.

A token from the audience

Kabuki plays are traditionally interactive with constant interplay taking place between actors and spectators of the theatre. Actors frequently interrupted the play to address the crowd and who responded with praise for the actors and plenty of applause. Many audience members would also call out the names of their favourite actors of the plays during the course of the performance. These performances often incorporated traditional Japanese themes and customs that reflected the four seasons, they also selected material based on both modern and historical events.
As Kabuki plays ran from sunrise to sunset, many spectators often attended for only a single play or scene, meaning the theatres were a constant hustle and bustle of audience members coming and going. At mealtimes, food and refreshments would be served to the viewers, usually from surrounding teahouses. The areas around the Kabuki theatres were filled with shops selling souvenirs with this art form becoming a true piece of Japanese entertainment.

Anatomy of the art form

When it comes to Kabuki stage sets, showmanship doesn’t fall short. Dynamic stage sets such as revolving platforms and trapdoors allowed for the all-important scene and set changes as well as the appearance and disappearance of actors throughout the plot. Many Kabuki stages have a footbridge, referred to as ‘hanamich’, that leads through to the audience, allowing for a dramatic entrance or exit.
The stage’s ambience will often be complemented by live music, performed using traditional instruments. Music was used to set the mood of the play and was also used to emphasize important points in each play. Music was also used to direct the actors who were trained to take their cues based on the music rather than stage directions.
Most Kabuki theatre plots were typically focused on important events in Japanese history, other plots also consisted of warm-hearted dramas, moral conflicts, love stories and tales of tragedy. Strict censorship was put in place to make sure the plays did not become critical of the government. To enhance the enjoyment of the traditional Kabuki, it is common to read a little about the story before attending.
Kabuki theatres relied heavily on the stages, plots and music in their performances and depicted a wide variety of themes and genres. With its roots tracing back to the Edo Period, this Japanese art form is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture. At Atelier Japan, we strive to keep Japanese culture and ancient techniques alive with our range of handcrafted tea, silverware, pottery, jewellery and fans that are handcrafted by Japanese artisans. Explore more of our collections below for handcrafted Japanese products that tell their own story.