Japan: Values & Belief System                                         


Humility and Modesty   

This cultural concept advocates thoughtful, courteous, polite and refined behavior. It is important to demonstrate humility and modesty—as exaggerated claims of ability are viewed with suspicion.  


A network of elaborate relationships promoting trust and cooperation and for centuries was the main way of accomplishing everyday tasks. Establishing a sincere, supportive relationship based on mutual respect is a fundamental aspect of the Japanese culture. Loyalty to family and friends is very important in the Japanese culture.


An important issue that should be considered when interacting with the Japanese is the concept of “face.” Face is a mark of personal pride and forms the basis of an individual's reputation and social status. In the Japanese culture “saving face,” “losing face” and “giving face” are vital for successful relationships. Causing someone to loose face through public humiliation or inappropriate allocation of respect to individuals within the organization can seriously damage relationships. On the other hand, praising someone in moderation is a form of “giving face” and can earn respect, loyalty and aid relationships. In schools, it is rare for a student to brag about obtaining the highest grade in the class because that would cause the other students to loose face and would not demonstrate humility and modestly!

Belief Systems


Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan. Many Japanese who practice Shinto also follow the traditions of Buddhism. The whole Japanese landscape is central to Shinto. Mount Fuji is the supreme home of the Gods. Pilgrims ascend this snow-caped mountain on foot. Ceremonies appeal to kami (the mysterious powers of nature) for protection. Kami are associated with rocks, streams, trees and particularly mountains. There are ceremonies in shrines several times a year. Some shrines are dedicated to a specific kami (i.e. fox shrine). Shinto has no recognized founder nor central scripture but is based on ancient mythology. Shinto means “Way of the Gods.” All Japanese emperors are considered literal descendants of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Shinto principles of ancestor veneration, ritual purity and respect for nature’s beauty are all apparent in the Japanese culture. Shinto was important historically in creating order as illustrated by the “Code of the Warrior” (Bushido), which stressed honor, courage, politeness and reserve. Many people have small Shinto shrines in their homes. For most, however, this is done more out of respect for social tradition than out of religious conviction. Shinto marriages are still common today.


Buddhism remains a very important religion in Japan since it was introduced during the Nara Period (710-794). The general principle is that the world is an illusion conjured up by each individual's mind. Every thought has the power to produce a retributive future result (known as karma), and that it is this that decides in what form we will appear during our next life. Enlightenment occurs when we understand this, and nirvana is attained when we are emancipated from the endless cycle of life and death to join the “Universal Mind.” Many Buddhist schools have integrated the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and other indigenous philosophical systems so that, what was initially a foreign religion (originating in India), came to be a natural part of Japanese civilization—albeit with a unique character. Buddhism has played an enormous role in shaping the mindset of the Japanese people, affecting their aesthetics, literature and philosophy.