japanese green grocer

How do you say Gluten in Japanese?

Gluten is guruten in Japanese. However, most people only know the native word komugi which means wheat flour. I’m here to teach how to say what you need to so you can eat your fill in Japan!

how do you say gluten in japanese?

I know that if you’re asking this question, it’s about your health. I also know that you’ve been dealing this with already — many of you, for all of your lives. So, I’m going to be brutally honest. But I also promise you that traveling gluten-free in Japan is not impossible. I’ve traveled across the country with hundreds of people with many different dietary restrictions. It’s challenging, but absolutely possible.

Also, I’ve created a free PDF you can download and print out (or just open it up on your mobile device). Show it to hotel staff and restaurant staff and rest assured you’ll be safe. The link is at the end of the article, or just skip to it in the Table of Contents if you’re in a hurry.

eat healthy in japan - travel

The Reality About Gluten-Free Diets in Japan

First of all, if you have celiac disease or some other gluten intolerance and you’re planning a trip to Japan, there are a few things you absolutely must know. Gluten-free options in the west are becoming increasingly available, especially in restaurants. In Japan, this is not the case.

Just think about it. One of the main seasonings in Japanese cuisine is soy sauce which is made from wheat flour. That means the bulk of traditional Japanese dishes are completely off the table for you. If you’re also vegan and cannot eat dashi (a kind of soup stock often made from fish or meat), you’ll be even more limited. In fact, I call this gluten-free/vegan/no dashi combination the Trifecta. If that’s the case… wow, basically, 90% of Japanese food is a no go for you and your options outside of big cities will be even more difficult.

how do you say gluten in japanese?

Challenging, But Doable

As a tourism professional who’s lived in Japan 16 years, the best advice I can give you is booking a professional guide (or, at least for the beginning of your trip). I’d love it to be me (JapanThis.Tours), but any experienced, competent guide who regularly handles clients with dietary restrictions can also help you out. A pro can take you into supermarkets, convenience stores, and teach you the ins and outs of eating healthy in Japan. You’re on vacation. The last thing we want is for you to get sick! I’ve often purchased personal travel-sized bottles of gluten-free soy sauce for clients that they can take with them. Some mom and pop restaurants have even agreed to use it for special dishes.

Apps like Happy Cow can be a lifesaver when your stomach starts growling. But a lot of delicious restaurants have perfectly acceptable items on the menu. Problem is, the owners don’t know there’s a medical reason people might be searching for that particular dish. In short, a lot of places fly under the radar.

Gluten-free tourism is absolutely possible in #Japan!

How do you say gluten in Japanese?

how do you say gluten in japanese?

Komugi futaishō desu – I’m gluten intolerant

私は、小麦不耐症です
watashi wa, komugi futaishō desu
I’m wheat flour intolerant.

This is, hands down, the best phrase you can use as a tourist in Japan who can’t do gluten.

I translated this as “intolerant,” but the Japanese word I used implies “I will get sick if I eat gluten” as opposed to a less serious reaction. This should ensure the staff and cooks take your condition seriously.

Pro-Tip: Drop watashi wa and point at yourself instead.

I’ve included two full sentences in this article. Each of them begin with watashi wa which means something like “I am/I have.” If these sentences are too long to remember, you can drop watashi wa and just point at your face to mean “me!” If you do that, you only have to memorize the second half of the sentence.

Pronunciation Tip: The final u in desu is very weak. So, if you pronounce it like komugi futaishō des’, you’ll sound more natural.

eat in japan - JapanThis.Tours

Arerugii – allergy

アレルギー
arerugii
allergy

You don’t need this word by itself, but I’d like to talk about the pronunciation. Many medical words in Japanese come from German and Dutch, not English. Arerugii is the Japanese pronunciation of the German word Allergie. The last sound is not a soft g (gee) like English, but a hard g (ghee) as in “geezer.”

Pronunciation Tip: I speak fluent Japanese. But even for me, this word is hard to say.
The u in arerugii is weak. So, it sounds most natural if you say it like arergii.

If that’s still tricky, just say English “allergy” with a hard g. People should understand that.

Some common allergies:

  • komugi arergii – gluten allergy
  • piinattsu arergii – peanut allergy
  • neko arergii – cat allergy
JapanThis.Tours

Komugi arerugii ga arimasu – I have a gluten allergy

私は、小麦アレルギーがあります
watashi wa
, komugi arerugii ga arimasu
I have a wheat flour allergy.

This is really the phrase you want if you want to convey that you have gluten allergy. You can use this if you’re sure that if a tiny bit of wheat flour accidentally finds its way into your food, you won’t suffer from a horrible, vacation-ruining reaction.

Pro-Tip: The middle u in arerugii and the last u in arimasu are very weak. If you pronounce the phrase komugi arergii ga arimas’ it will sound more natural.

.

free stuff

Free PDF Download to Print Out

Worried you can’t remember all this? No problem. I have a free PDF that you can download or print out. It describes various dietary restrictions, including things like “gluten-free vegan.”

MY DIETARY RESTRICTIONS PDF

I’d like to expand it, so if you have some requests about your own requirements, you can make suggestions anonymously!

how do you say gluten in japanese?

Want to know more?

If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to ask in the comments section down below. Also, I believe health and safety are extremely important when traveling abroad, so please share this with any friends or loved ones who could use it.

I have more Japanese Survival Phrases for Tourists articles coming soon, so be sure to subscribe to JapanThis.Tours for my latest tourism content. It’s free and I try to update it every month.

Also, during the New Year’s holiday, I plan to begin adding audio clips to this and all Japanese Survival Phrases articles. I will be using native speakers so you can get the perfect pronunciation. Stay tuned!

Can I Travel to Japan in 2021?

travel japan 2021

Can I Travel to Japan in 2021?

Yes, some people can probably travel to Japan in summer of 2021, but not everyone. Don’t start packing your bags because nothing is certain at this point. The government has not committed to anything yet, but they’ve hinted at easing travel restrictions in April 2021. This implies they won’t open the country up completely. The Japanese government has been extremely strict about allowing tourists in because they are determined to make the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics a success, and not a superspreading event. However, most people I know in Japan doubt the games will happen at all1. And the tourism industry is especially pessimistic about this.

If the games proceed as planned in July 2021, that will be a good indicator that inbound tourism2 will finally begin its recovery phase. After more than a year of zero business due to the pandemic, this will be a welcome change. That said, tourism won’t be back to normal until 2024 or 2025. I’ll talk more about why recovery will take so long, but first I have to address the worst-case scenario.

If the government has to cancel or severely cut back the Olympics, that could push back fully opening borders to international travelers until spring of 2023. This could manifest as a continuation of the policy only allowing citizens, residence visa holders, and business people in so-called travel bubbles3 into Japan until 2022. The Tokyo Olympics situation looks increasingly bad because Olympic refunds have already begun and consumer confidence is at an all-time low in regards to international travel everywhere. This is especially true of a country like Japan, which has a reputation for being very distant, costly, and not very accessible.

can I travel to japan in 2021?

What Will Tourism in Japan Look Like after 2021?

For now, let’s assume the Olympics will proceed as scheduled in 2021, then international travel slowly resumes. It would be insanity to think that come April 2021, anyone who wants to can just hop on a plane and enter Japan. There will most like be priority given to countries that have handled the COVID-19 outbreak well and there will probably be continued restrictions on countries that have not. Also, it’s not unreasonable to think some countries will be locked out altogether. Because of all this uncertainty, I expect inbound tourism to recover very, very slowly.

Furthermore, Japan’s inbound travel industry works on a kind of two-year cycle in regards to each individual tourist or group of tourists. The average person books a group tour or begins planning their trip to Japan at least one year in advance4. Few people just hop on a plane and head to Japan for the weekend. Furthermore, because Japan is not a cheap country, younger travelers5 spend about a year saving up before beginning their booking process. Again, few people can just jump on a plane and shout “Woohoo! I’m goin’ to Japan!”

Normalization of Travel in 2022

In the best-case scenario, I predict tourists will begin trickling into Japan in autumn 2021. From a business perspective, it won’t be great6. But for the experience of travelers, it should be wonderful. Crowds of international tourists, especially the despised large groups7, should be much fewer than we’ve seen in the last six years. All the sites renovated in anticipation of #Tokyo2020 will still look brand-spanking new, just minus the crowds. This will be true all throughout the country, not only the capital.

I suspect that by spring 2022 travel in and out of Japan will normalize. In fact, I’m certain that even though Japan will once again have peak seasons (spring and autumn), the numbers of international tourists will remain very low. 2020 put a lot of people out of work and sadly they just won’t have the cash on hand to take their dream trip to Japan. I want to reiterate that this is not good for local guides such as myself, nor is it particularly good for the mid and large sized tour companies or the airlines either. It is, however, great for travelers like you. The low numbers of inbound travelers in 2020 should translate to less crowds and Japan will just “feel like Japan” again. Repeat travelers to the country who came before 2015 know exactly what I’m talking about.

travel japan 2021

Learning from the Past for a Better Future

I’m sure that by spring 2025, Japan will start seeing a large number of foreign travelers coming to Japan – some for the first time, but many for the second or third time. But will things ever be the same again? Honestly, I hope not. I’m optimistic big changes will come from the ground up as the Japanese tourism industry reimagines itself and gets back on its feet.

Prior to 2014, Japan wasn’t really a tourist destination except to hardcore Japanophiles. Since 2016, it was breaking inbound tourism records every year. Scrambling to get as many paying customers here as quickly as possible for as cheap as possible, the tour companies built their businesses on getting people into Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and a handful of other perennially popular destinations.

The old model is Unsustainable

I live in Tokyo and I love it. And it’s a pretty populous city, to say the least.

But depending how you cut up the numbers, let’s say there are 11 million people living there. You can throw another couple million tourists in the mix for a few days and no one cares. The infrastructure is there. But Kyoto, for example, is a small city with a population of, like, three million or something. If you dump a couple million foreigners there, the whole thing just falls apart. Locals have been complaining for years that Kyoto doesn’t “feel like Kyoto” anymore. It’s like Disneyland-with-geisha. I don’t want to throw all the blame at the large tour companies. The Japanese government has done the exact same thing. They’ve spent six years promoting the same cities they’ve been pushing since the 1960s. All of this has been happening at the expense of all the cool, lesser known towns that, frankly, offer a far richer and more authentic Japanese experience.

overtourism in kyoto

Tourism Pollution

To be blunt, in an effort to build up a successful inbound tourism industry and make Japan a premiere international destination, the Japanese government didn’t just sacrifice authenticity. They inadvertently caused a huge problem: overtourism. Or as they call it in Japanese, “tourism pollution.” I can’t tell you what the large tour companies are doing about this, probably nothing, to be honest. But I can tell you that small, boutique travel operators, such as my colleagues, have been pushing for unique experiences that aren’t on Trip Advisor8. And they’ve been pushing for this for a while now.

Of course, Kyoto is amazing. But there are amazing towns that don’t get many foreign tourists and are dying for visitors. They might not be English-friendly yet, and they most likely don’t know how to promote how awesome they are to foreigners. But they’re definitely worth visiting! It is my sincere hope, that the entire industry is using this awful year of no business to do some soul searching. I hope they are re-evaluating their strategies for showcasing how awesome Japan is in a sustainable way once the pandemic is over.

travel japan 2021 kanda myojin (during renovation)

Support Local Guides and Businesses

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I just want to close with a simple request to anyone thinking about traveling to Japan in or after 2021. In your country, you’ve probably noticed that small businesses – mom and pop shops, family-owned restaurants, etc. – have been suffering the most during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re booking through a travel agent, a tour company, or doing everything yourself, I suggest you consider finding an independent, specialized local guide for at least one of your days in Japan.

I would define a competent private guide as someone who’s been in Japan 10 years or more and specializes in something9. These people are passionate and enthusiastic about Japan and they want you to be passionate and enthusiastic too. They’re knowledgeable about the culture and neighborhoods they focus on. If you’re interested in Buddhism, find a guide who’s really into Buddhism. Are you in love with Japanese anime and manga? I’m sure you can easily find a hardcore otaku guide. If you’re into Japanese culture and Japanese history, there’s probably a kindred nerd out there for you10. Or, maybe you’re the outdoors type. Plenty of guides are waiting to rough it with you.

A Great Guide is good for You and Good for Japan

There are plenty of great people out there in the biz who are hurting right now, but are ready to give you the best day or days of your holiday. They may not be on Trip Advisor. Your booking agent probably has no idea who they are. You just need to dig a little deeper online and you’re bound to find a diamond in the rough.

I think it’s safe for me to speak on behalf of all those independent guides, all the mom and pop restaurants, and all the ryokan (Japanese style inns) and hot springs. We can’t wait for you to come to Japan. And while I don’t recommend rushing to travel to Japan in 2021, I’m confident things will be better than ever. It’s just going to take some time.

tokyo tower 2018

  1. Refunds for the Olympics began this month, November 2020. This is all rumor, but allegedly organizers think refund requests will be high. I’ve heard the phrase “more than half of all tickets” more than once. If true, this does not bode well for the games.↩︎

  2. That is, foreigners traveling to Japan.↩︎

  3. Relationships formed between Japan and a handful of other nations that have the virus somewhat under control.↩︎

  4. Because, again, Japan has a reputation for being very distant, costly, and not very accessible.↩︎

  5. By younger traveler, I’m using the 25-45 year-old demographic.↩︎

  6. Afterall, usually spring and autumn are our peak seasons and are generally busy, profitable, and lots of fun.↩︎

  7. Let’s be honest, any group over 10 people is annoying for everyone else lololol. I’m mostly talking about groups of 20 and above. And before you accuse me shaming people, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve led groups of up to 13. The difference is, my groups are always super polite. But the reason for that is a story for another day.↩︎

  8. No disrespect, but Trip Advisor ruins everything. As soon as something gets listed on there, it’s officially “not cool anymore.”↩︎

  9. By “specializes in something,” I mean they have a lot of enthusiasm for this work because they’re passionate specific aspects of Japanese culture. Not just “I’ll take you to the Imperial Palace Gardens or whatever, man.”↩︎

  10. I might know I guy…↩︎

10 Best Things to do with Kids in Tokyo

things to do with kids in japan

Best Things to do with Kids in Tokyo

Most of my tours focus on history and culture. However, there are lots of great things for kids to do in Tokyo. From indoor activities to outdoor excursions, there’s no shortage of fun to have on your vacation to Japan’s bustling capital. This list is aimed at families with pre-teens to college kids, but many experiences work for younger kids. Some of you grown-up kids will love these too! (I’m talking to you mom and dad!)

tokyo disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland AND Tokyo Disney Sea

Many people forget that two of Disney’s greatest theme parks are located right on Tokyo Bay! In operation since 1983 and 2001 respectively, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea provide fun for the whole family. At the time of writing, they’ve begun expanding the park. Soon, there will soon be more to love about Disneyland in Japan. Also, because of Tokyo’s mild winters, both theme parks are open all year round. Just remember. In the summer, Tokyo is hot and humid, so keep that in mind if being outside all day is stressful for your kids.

the kawaii monster cafe

Kawaii Monster Café

The Kawaii Monster Café is one of those ridiculous “only in Japan” experiences, combining a whimsical Alice in Wonderland-esque décor and over-the-top entertainment by the café’s very own kawaii monster dancers[i]. It’s perfect for lunch, but there are often long lines to get in. So, I recommend making a reservation and skipping the queue – I’m happy to arrange this for you. Actually, I often incorporate the Kawaii Monster Café into some of my Tokyo Day Tours because it’s popular with my clients who want to see Tokyo’s quirky side. The menu is simple so even picky kids can find something they like.

tokyo giants - japanese baseball

Baseball Games

Japan’s national sport is baseball, and if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll find the level of play top notch and, in my opinion, the carnival-like atmosphere is way more fun that MLB games. Japan is consistently in the top three countries for international baseball. It is also a host nation of the World Baseball Classic. I’m happy to get tickets for your baseball-loving family, but it’s probably best to just add on a game to one of my Tokyo Day Tours. That way, we can enjoy the game together (or in the case of my European and Australian customers, I can explain the rules). Tokyo has two baseball teams: the Tokyo Giants and the Tokyo Swallows. I’m a Giants fan and the indoor stadium is great rain or shine. The Swallows play outdoors which can get hot and humid and games are occasionally rained out or delayed.

the poop museum

The Poop Museum

I’ll be honest with you. The Poop Museum is one of Japan’s most ridiculous experiences. Kids, teens, and adults alike can appreciate this weird place. It’s silly, colorful, and extremely childish, but you’ll probably get some of the best family photos of your whole trip here. Originally a temporary exhibit, the Poop Museum became so popular that it found a permanent home in Odaiba, near Tokyo Bay. There are lots of goofy exhibits and nothing gross or distasteful here, just really colorful and cute fun. Because of long lines, I recommend purchasing tickets in advance and skipping the line. I recommend doing this as part of a customized Tokyo Day Tour so I can maximize our day and not waste any time waiting around or taking weird train routes from across town.

video game arcade

Video Game Arcades

In Japan, video games are a way of life and video arcades are as popular as ever! I often take people to Akihabara, the heart of Japan’s otaku culture[ii], where we can experience the most awesome multilevel game centers. However, in Tokyo, arcades are located everywhere, but finding the good ones (and the non-smoking ones) can be tricky sometimes. Besides video games, there are also crane games, gachapon machines, and sometimes even VR and purikura photo booths. If you don’t know what that is, let’s get you and the kids in there for the ultimate weird photo both experience!

You Might Also Like:

round one

Round One

If video games aren’t your whole family’s thing, why not try Round One? In addition to video games, you have batting cages, inline skates, “sports challenges,” private karaoke booths[iii], darts, bowling, and more. This is great when the weather is bad you can’t do cultural stuff, but still want to enjoy your day as a family. None of the activities require Japanese language ability, but the staff probably doesn’t speak English, so it helps if you bring a local with you to ensure things go nice and smooth. It’s great for kids of all ages, including you adult kids lol.

fishing in tokyo

Fishing in Tokyo Bay

If you’re outdoors types, fishing in Tokyo Bay gives you fantastic views of the city skyline and puts you in touch with the capital’s humble beginnings. Tokyo began as a collection of villages based on fishing and seaweed production. If you can’t speak Japanese, this kind of experience is generally inaccessible for most travelers. But don’t worry. I can set it up and interpret for you the whole time. Sea bream, perch, and flounder are plentiful. But if you really want to go for it, you can also catch albacore tuna, skipjack tuna, yellowtail tuna, sea bass, and various types of mackerel. Squid and octopus also live in Tokyo Bay. If you kids like fishing, this is a really unique chance, in my opinion.

the miraikan

National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Known as Miraikan in Japanese[iv], the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is one of the coolest family-oriented museums I’ve ever been too. It’s English-friendly and has lots of interactive exhibits. You can see Asimo, Honda’s line of robots developed in the early 2000’s. Also, getting there is half the fun, as you can take the Yurikome Line, a driverless, robotic monorail that passes through the Tokyo Bay area! Kids love the hands-on experiences and Tokyo just exudes “future,” so this is a pretty obvious choice.

kiddyland

Kiddyland

I normally recommend clients skip the Harajuku area as it has devolved into an insufferable tourist trap and locals avoid it like the plague. However, there are still a few good reasons to visit the area. If you happen to be in this part of town with kids, Kiddyland is a timeless toy store that is definitely worth checking out. Most of the products are limited to Japan, even if they’re from international IP’s. Even adults will enjoy browsing the shelves at this Tokyo institution!

the samurai museum shinjuku

The Samurai Museum

The Samurai Museum is an English-friendly museum that teaches about samurai. It has a nice collection of armor, weapons, and features a demonstration of Japanese swordplay that you can participate in! There’s a lively guided tour that isn’t too heavy on history, and plenty of time for Q&A with the staff. The gift shop is filled with samurai-related goods that any kid would be happy to bring back home. Also, at the end of the tour, they have samurai armor and Japanese princess outfits for you to try and snap some memorable photos that you’ll love to share with your friends.

There’s Plenty More Family Fun in Tokyo

I hope my Top 10 Things to do with Kids in Tokyo has given you some ideas for you trip. Obviously, there are hundreds of more ideas. If I know what your family is into, I can help customize the perfect day — or days — for you. I’ve been in Japan for 16 years and know Tokyo inside and out. Let’s start planning your day tour now!


__________________________
[i] Kawaii is the Japanese word for “cute.”
[ii] Otaku means “geek” or “nerd” and refers to people who love anime, manga, and video games.
[iii] Everybody knows karaoke, but did you know it comes from the Japanese words for “empty orchestra pit?”
[iv] Miraikan means “Hall of the Future” in Japanese.

Is Emperor Worship Really a Thing in Japan?

Emperor Jinmu

Is the Japanese Emperor a God?

“Do the Japanese worship the emperor as a god?” This is a question I get all the time. Anyone who’s seen a WWII documentary about the Pacific War has probably come away with the impression that the Japanese emperor is god. The native faith of Japan is 神道 Shintō, literally, “the way of the gods.” Traditionally, this has been a decentralized, polytheistic, animistic religion whose oldest myths describe the imperial family as descendants of the sun goddess, 天照 Amaterasu. However, having divine blood was not the same as being a god. It wasn’t until a period from 1868 to 1945, the time of the Japanese Empire, that the State promulgated the idea of “emperor worship”[i] for about 60 years or less. Of course, Japan is an ancient country, and the story is much more complicated than that.

It wasn’t until the prewar period when the Japanese Empire promulgated the idea of “emperor worship” also known as State Shintō, but only for about 60 years or less. Click To Tweet
Emperor Jinmu with bow and arrow
Emperor Jinmu – the “first” emperor of Japan

From Ancient Times to 1868

The most distant period of Japanese history is 神代 Kamiyo the Age of the Gods. In this mythological time, legends tell us that the divine grandson of the sun goddess herself established a court on earth which embarked on illustrious conquests of the Japanese archipelago. The divine grandson’s grandson became the first emperor[ii], and to this day the imperial family still has the ancient and noble blood of the sun goddess coursing through their veins, or so it has been said. As time went on, warrior clans, known as 侍 samurai came to hold not just military power but also political power. The imperial family was still important, but were relegated to Shintō rituals in the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto and served as pawns in elaborate martial chess games played by samurai warlords during the Japanese Middle Ages. Military rulers called 将軍 shōguns never abolished the imperial line, but relied on them for ceremonial legitimacy, thus there was general harmony between the parallel imperial and shōgunal lines[iii] right up until the 1860’s.

Many are surprised that #Japan had parallel imperial and military dynasties from the 12th century until the 1860s. Click To Tweet
Yasukuni Shrine in WWII
Soldiers prepare for battle at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo

State Shintō and the Empire of Japan

In 1868, a bizarre revolution took place in Japan. Disaffected antiforeign, pro-isolationist samurai used the restoration of imperial rule as a means to topple the current samurai government[iv] which had overseen 250+ years of strict isolationism. The revolutionaries “restored imperial rule” after roughly 700 years of emperors just performing religious ceremonies, writing poetry, and conferring titles upon the samurai court in 江戸 Edo (present day 東京 Tōkyō). Again, the emperor was just a pawn, but rebels now used his “divine origins” to emphasize their so-called righteous overthrow of the Edo Government. As a descendant of sun goddess – who was herself the embodiment of Japan[v] – the emperor became, in effect, the head of all Shintō religions in addition to the august symbol of the country. The term “State Shintō” didn’t really exist until the final years of WWII, but it was a concept for military propagandists in the short-lived fascist Japanese Empire. Hirohito, the Shōwa Emperor[vi], was also used as a chess piece – this time as a justification for things like kamikaze pilots, fighting-to-death rather than surrender, and for citizens to kill themselves and their families in defense of the divine emperor and his divine realm in which they were fortunate enough to be subjects. The military-controlled fascist government twisted the myths of divine imperial descent into “emperor worship.”

As a descendant of sun goddess, the Japanese emperor became the head of all Shintō religion in addition to the august symbol of the country. Click To Tweet
Imperial Palace after WWII
Bowing in front of the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle)

Post-War Japan

There is a famous photo of presumably ordinary Japanese citizens gathered in front of 正門 seimon the main gate of the Imperial Palace[vii] and bowing low to the ground to pay respects to the Shōwa Emperor after he announced Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces at the end of WWII. This photo depicts the last gasp of State Shintō and therefore “emperor worship.” General McArthur assumed control of Japan during the Occupation and initial reconstruction – including the Tōkyō War Crimes Tribunal which purged the Japanese Empire’s top military leadership. Despite eliminating all cadastral branches of the imperial clan, he protected Emperor Hirohito and, in effect, the direct male line since 1868[viii]. However, in the early days of the Occupation, McArthur demanded that the emperor renounce his divinity as a direct repudiation of State Shintō. Furthermore, separation of religion and government was expressly written into the new Japanese Constitution and it took root. These days, if you meet a person who considers the emperor a living god, you’ve probably found a complete loon. In fact, Japan is one of the most secular nations on earth and outside of history geeks and old timers, many modern Japanese are unfamiliar with State Shintō as a concept[ix].

Japan is one of the most secular nations on earth and outside of history geeks and old timers, most modern Japanese are unfamiliar with State Shintō as a concept Click To Tweet

Verdict

Reiwa Tenno
Current emperor and empress of Japan

So, is emperor worship a thing in Japan?
The short answer is “No. The Japanese emperor is not a god.”


While deeply revered as the descendants of the sun goddess, emperors were never worshiped as living gods except for a short period during the build up to WWII[x]. This attitude, known as State Shintō, began as a way to legitimize the emperors in their new position as constitutional monarchs after 1868. In fact, I’d venture to say that Hirohito[xi] was the only one actually worshipped as a living god – at least until 1945. Now the Japanese imperial family is similar to the royal families of Europe, just much more private and therefore far less scandalous. Also, due to the secular nature of modern Japanese society, the concept of gods – let alone a single living, human god seems like an alien concept.

Further Reading:

_______________________________________
[i] This wasn’t a unique idea. Just look back at the Roman Empire which deified their emperors, initially after death, then eventually while they were still alive.
[ii] His name was 神武 Jinmu and the beginning of his reign, February 11th, 660 BCE, the Japanese government still considers this date the birthday of Japan. It’s a national holiday. By the way, ancient chroniclers completely made up that date, 660 BCE. The first verifiable, historical emperor reigned during the 6th century CE.
[iii] There were a few times when an emperor here and there got uppity, but the samurai governments controlled the military, so that usually didn’t last for very long.
[iv] The samurai government in Edo was tbe Edo Shōgunate (or, the Tokugawa Shōgunate). The Tokugawa clan were the hereditary rulers of this peaceful dynasty. It had recently become begrudgingly anti-isolationist and pro-“modernization,” but still very much a military, samurai government. If you’re confused, so were they! This revolution is still cause for much debate today. Some call it a “restoration,” I call it a “coup.” But no matter what your position is, it’s a fascinating and dramatic stretch of Japanese history.
[v] “Japan” literally means “source of the sun” and usually poetically translated as “the land of the rising sun.”
[vi] In Japan, there is a taboo against saying the names of emperors. Rather, they are known by their posthumous names which – since 1868 – have been used as era names. Hirohito is the Shōwa Emperor.
[vii] Actually, they are bowing in front of the gate. No commoner would ever be allowed access to any of these bridges and gates until recently – and even now, most gates and bridges to the castle are still off limits.
[viii] 1868 was the Meiji Coup – the overthrow of the legitimate samurai government by the clowns who put Japan on a collision course with WWII.
[ix] The national curriculum is a topic for another article lol
[x] I have to note one major exception. When you die in Japan, you become a 神 kami. This term is sometimes translated as “god.” This is a kind of ancestor worship. Upon accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne, emperors take a posthumous name. You could argue that they’ve already become kami at this point. But this is a discussion for religious scholars, not a travel blog.
[xi] The Shōwa Emperor – ie; the WWII emperor.

bamboo bamboo whisk board bowls

How do you say Delicious in Japanese?

In Japanese, delicious is oishii. And yes, while there are lots of beautiful and delicious foods in Japan, the reason I want to teach you this word is cultural. The Japanese take great pride in their high quality, fresh ingredients and its delicate arrangement. They also comment on food non-stop while eating. If you stay in a family-owned ryokan (Japanese style inn) or eat in a small mom and pop restaurant, they will think you don’t enjoy the food if you don’t comment on it.

No matter what language you speak, talking about cuisine requires a lot of specific vocabulary. And Japanese is no different. That said, I think we can cover a few basic food words you can use throughout your trip. Also, I’ll teach you a few related phrases you can use in other situations.

Ready? Great. Let’s get into it!

Complimenting Food in Japanese

how do you say delicious in japanese?

Oishii desu – it’s delicious

美味しいです
oishii desu
It’s delicious!

The Japanese take cuisines very seriously. And if something tastes good, they don’t hold back the compliments. If you’re enjoying the food, especially a home cooked meal at a traditional Japanese inn, definitely say oishii desu to the wait staff and chef. They’ll really appreciate the compliment.

Pro-Tip: The final u is barely perceptible to the ear, so if you pronounce it oishii des’ it sounds more natural.

how do you say delicious in japanese?

Kirei desu – it’s lovely

綺麗です
kirei desu
It’s beautiful!
It’s lovely!

In Japan, food presentation is extremely important. So all of your food will look amazing. Praise the staff for serving lovely food and you’ll endear yourself for sure.

Compliment the chef in Japanese with these easy phrases!

Pro-Tip: The final u is barely perceptible to the ear, so if you pronounce it kirei des’ it sounds more natural.

General Compliments

how do you say beautiful in japanese?

Suteki desu – it’s fabulous

素敵です
suteki desu
It’s dreamy!
It’s wonderful!

Suteki desu is best used to describe classy things. An elegant dinner. A luxurious kimono. Beautiful hair, nails, and makeup. If you see a stunning geiko (a Kyoto geisha) like the one above, you can use suteki to describe her hair, her makeup, or her kimono. Even her style is suteki.

Men can use this word, just like “fabulous.” But overusing it sounds a bit effeminate.

Pro-Tip: The u in suteki and desu is very light. So it sounds more natural if you say steki des’.

Iki ja nō – it’s cool (old samurai expression)

粋じゃのう
iki ja nō
It’s refined and sophisticated

Iki means cool, but it refers to the style popularized in Edo (modern Tokyo) during the samurai period. Today it means traditional and cool. It has a masculine connotation.

This tour guide is teaching people how to say “that’s cool” in 18th century Japanese. WTF?

Pro-Tip: Stretch out the final o to sound like a feudal lord talking to himself. I mean, if you’re gonna bust out a cool phrase like this, you have to play the part.

how do you say cute in japanese?

Kawaii desu – it’s cute (“Japanese cute”)

かわいいです
kawaii desu
It’s cute!

You can use this when shopping and you see cute local goods. If you’re an animal lover and you spot someone with a cute pet. This is perfect for that too.

Pro-Tip: Drop the des’ and stretch out the final ii to sound like a really excited high school girl. Kawai——i.

how do you say cute in japanese?

Kyūto desu – it’s cute (“western cute”)

キュートです
kyūto desu
It’s cute!

Kyūto is the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “cute.”

In a future article, I’ll discuss the difference between “cute” and “kawaii.” Subscribe to JapanThis.Tours down below to get the update!

Pro-Tip: The o in kyūto and the u is desu are very weak. Try pronouncing it like kyūt’ des’.

Stupid people on a mountain annoying each other with guitars at sunset

TAKE AWAY: The One Word You Must Remember!

How do you say delicious in Japanese? Oishii desu means “it’s delicious” and if you remember one phrase from this page, that’s one.

Oishii desu!

Thanks for checking out my website. If you’re interested in Japan enough to learn the language, I’d like you to know that I’m currently making a series of Japanese Survival Phrases for Tourists. If you’d like to receive upcoming articles, please follow my site, JapanThis.Tours. I have more great content coming soon!

cheerful multiethnic couple talking while walking on city street

How do you say Hello in Japanese?

How do you say hello in Japanese? This is the first question I get from 90% of my clients.

The most common way to say hello in Japan is kon’nichi wa. which is like “good day” in English. However, there are different greetings for different times of day. And you never use it on the phone. Confused? Don’t worry. I’m going to teach you all the Japanese greetings. And if you’re overwhelmed, in the final section I’ll even narrow it down to the three phrases you absolutely must know.

Alright then, let’s get started!

Basic Japanese Greetings

how do you say hello in japanese?

Ohayō gozaimasu – good morning

おはようございます!
o-hayō gozaimasu!
Good morning!

This is the first greeting of day. You’ll hear this everywhere in your hotel until you check out. When someone says o-hayō gozaimasu to you, the correct response is… well, o-hayō gozaimasu. It’s good manners to use this with hotel staff in the morning, but if you’re staying at a family-run ryokan (Japanese style inn), you absolutely must reply to the staff. So please learn this phrase!

Many native speakers slur this phrase, especially if they’ve been saying it all morning.

Pro-Tip: The final u is very slight. So, o-hayō gozaimas’ is closer to the native pronunciation.

how do you say hello in japanese?

Kon’nichi wa – hello, good afternoon

こんにちは!
konnichi wa
!
Hello!
Good afternoon!

Konnichi wa is the most common casual greeting in Japan. Since the bulk of your time exploring Japan will be in the afternoon, this is a really important one.

Note that I translated it as “good afternoon.” Some people say it’s “good day,” but native speakers never use it the morning – usually from lunch time until about 5 PM. That said, you’re just a tourist, so if you use it all day, nobody’s gonna get angry and correct you. They know you’re just trying to be friendly.

Many native speakers, especially men may slur this phrase until it sounds something like chiwa-a.

how do you say hello in japanese?

Konban wa – good evening

こんばんは!
konban wa!
Good evening!

You can use konban wa from about 5 PM until bedtime.

Pro-Tip: Remember, this is a greeting – like “hello.” It’s never used for parting.

how do you say good night in japanese?

Oyasumi nasai – good night

おやすみなさい!
o-yasumi nasai!
Good night!
Goodbye!

Remember that konban wa is a greeting, so when saying goodbye in the evening, you should use o-yasumi nasai. You can even say this to strangers as they (or you) get off the elevator when it’s late at night.

If you trudge through the hotel late at night to pass out in your room, the lobby staff will probably say o-yasumi nasai as you leave the area or hop into the elevator.

Other Useful Japanese Greetings

how do you say hello in japanese?

Mata ne – see ya; later

またね!
mata ne!
See ya later!
Peace out.

Most people already know sayōnara as “goodbye” in Japanese. But, that’s rarely the word you’re looking for.

If you’ll see the person later (or if there’s even the slightest chance of seeing them later), you should use mata ne. It literally means “again, ok?” If you leave your Japanese tour guide on your lunch break, you can use this because you’ll seem them after eating.

Women and children may even say mata ne, bai bai! Which is mata ne plus “bye bye.” It sounds cute in Japanese.

how do you say goodbye in japanese?

Sayōnara – farewell; goodbye (for a long time, possibly forever)

さようなら!
sayōnara!
Farewell!

Yes, the famous phrase sayōnara does mean “goodbye.” However, it means it in a really final way. If a couple breaks up, they say sayōnara. At a funeral, you say sayōnara to the deceased. See what I mean?

Most of the time, you should just say mata ne, or more properly arigatō gozaimasu. You can read more about arigatō gozaimasu in my article How do you say thank you in Japanese?

Japan This! Tours telephone chick

Moshi moshi – hello (telephone only)

もしもし
moshi moshi
Hello.
Can you hear me?

OK, if you’re taking phone calls in Japanese, then your proficiency is way beyond this lesson. But in order to be comprehensive, I have to include moshi moshi. If you get a call from the front desk, you can use use this. I can’t think of any other situation where a tourist would use moshi moshi, though.

Pro-Tip: The final i is very weak. Native speakers, especially men, stretch out the final o. So if you say it moshi mo-osh it sounds more natural. Keep your ears perked up in Japan, you’ll hear it soon!

How do you get COVID in Japan?
Oh, I forgot to mention! The Japanese NEVER shake hands.
You should bow when using these greetings.

Conclusion: The 3 Must Know Japanese Greetings!

Ohayō gozaimas’!Good morning!
Kon’nichi wa!Hello! Good afternoon!
(11:30 to dusk)
Mata ne!See ya!

I wanted to include all the Japanese greetings, so you can learn as much as you want. If you think you only have a limited amount of hard drive space in your head, then these three will serve you well as a tourist in Japan. A little Japanese goes a long way here, so using these greetings will definitely score you points during your adventures.

If you’d like to learn more Japanese Survival Phrases, I’m putting together an ongoing series. You can print these out to study during the long flight or when you have down time in your room. If you’d like future content delivered to your inbox, be sure to sign up for JapanThis.Tours!


white and green osaka castle

How do you say Please in Japanese?

When shopping abroad, you’re bound to ask for things. So, today I’m going to teach you how to say please in Japanese. There are actually many ways to say please in Japanese, but the most gracious and polite ways are really complicated. So, today I’d like to show you the two best ways to say please in Japanese.

How do you say please in Japanese? JapanThis.Tours

Kudasai – please give me

〜ください
_______ kudasai
Please give me _____

You can use this when ordering food, but it’s most useful in shops and restaurants. When you see the item you like, just point and say what you want plus kudasai. Even if you don’t know the Japanese name for the item, the context should be obvious.

Luckily for you, this is really easy to use with menus. In Japan, shops traditionally had realistic mockups of all the dishes in the front window. These days, those have been replaced with high color print menus with photos of all or most of the dishes. Just point at the picture and say kudasai and the waiter will understand exactly what you want.

Pro-Tip: Remember, this isn’t the same as “please” in English. It’s “please give me.” So, you can say o-mizu kudasai “give me water, please.” Or, biiru kudasai “give me a beer, please.” But if you hop in a taxi, you can’t say Kōkyo kudasai “the Imperial Palace, please.” Only the emperor can give you that.

I just learned how to say “please” in Japanese. I can’t wait for my trip to #Japan!

Try to say “please give me” in Japanese with these nouns:

  • mizu (water)
  • biiru (beer)
  • kore (this)
onegai shimasu - please - JapanThis.Tours

O-negai shimasu – please (all-purpose)

お願いします
o-negai shimasu
Please (do something for me)

I know this looks like a really long way to say please at first. But trust me. This is far more useful that kudasai.

First, let’s break down into its basic components:
o-negai = “wish,” “desire,” or “request”
shimasu = “do”

Combined, o-negai shimasu is more like an all-purpose “please.” It literally means or “I beseech thee” or “I hope/wish.” Just like kudasai, you can point at things you want and say o-negai shimasu. The context will be clear. Also, unlike kudasai (which is actually a command), this is softer and can be used in all situations. Even if it seems like a mouthful at first, this is probably a much better way to say “please.” And it’s truly all-purpose.

Remember my example in the taxi? Now you can say Kōkyo, o-negai shimasu “Imperial Palace, please!” And Richmond Hotel Asakusa, o-negai shimasu will get you home… or just substitute the name of your hotel.

You can also use this when someone offers to help you. For example, when your waiter says “let me show you your table,” you can say o-negai shimasu to be extra polite. It’s not necessary, but good manners will take you far in Japan.

Pro-Tip: The final u is very slight, so just drop it and pronounce the phrase o-negai shimas’ to sound more natural.

I’m learning Japanese for my upcoming trip. It’s actually pretty easy!

Try to say “please” in Japanese with these nouns:

  • Nihon-shu (saké)
  • (your hotel name)
  • Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine)

Conclusion

Now that you know how to say please in Japanese, you can ask for things polite. Hopefully, you can remember both of these phrases. But if you think you can only remember one of them, I highly recommend o-negai shimasu as the one you keep in your back pocket at all times because of its versatility. That said, if you do tell the taxi driver to kudasai you a train station or something, it won’t be the end of the world. They will understand what you’re trying to say.

Lastly, this is part of an ongoing series where I teach travelers Japanese Survival Phrases. You can print these out to study on the long flight over or to review in your hotel room. If you’d like to keep up with my future articles, be sure to follow JapanThis.Tours.








photo of houses

Kanji for Tourists

Your trip to Europe or South America was a breeze. Even if you didn’t speak the local language, for the most part you could read the alphabet. However, things a different in Japan.

In researching your trip to Japan, you’ve probably encountered someone somewhere claiming that Japanese is the most difficult language to learn and that Japanese has the most complicated writing system on earth.

the japanese flag

I don’t want to scare you off by giving my opinion on those claims, but I do want to reassure you that if you come to Japan — now more than ever before — you’re not going to have a hard time with the language. In the build up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (which may or may not happen at this point), Tokyo and other major cities have made great efforts to make signage accessible to tourists.

That said, the best parts of Japan are off the beaten track. If you want to enjoy a really nice onsen (natural hot spring), you’re gonna have to go to the countryside. The farther you get away from the big cities, the more tradition things get. Actually, if you go to a traditional restaurant in downtown Tokyo, sometimes you may find the bathrooms don’t have English or non-alphabetic ideograms.

To ensure you use the correct restroom and the correct public bath, you gonna have to learn the kanji (Chinese characters) for “men” and “women.” But don’t worry. I’ll have you memorizing these characters in no time. And just to prove how simple it is, I’ll teach one full Japanese that you’ll see everywhere and can even use in your travels when you meet locals.

kanji for tourists - otoko - men

Man/Men


otoko
man, men

Now, you may be saying “How the heck am I going to remember that? It doesn’t look like a man!” Well, if you break down into parts, the top part 田 is a rice paddy. Rice paddies take time to build and cultivate. They represent a stable food source and income. The bottom part is 力power, but it also looks a little bit like 刀 katana (sword). Think of it as a powerful samurai running with his swords to protect his rice paddies. The paddy is a big square head. The running legs/sword is the power. This is “man.

kanji for tourists - onna - woman

Woman/Women


onna
woman, women

Again, you’re probably like “I’ll never remember this.” But if you print out my flashcards and look at this character a lot, you’ll become familiar with it soon. And, it does look like a woman. Trust me. Imagine that it’s a woman sitting cross-legged holding a baby in her arms. The top line is her thin head. The middle section is the baby in the arms. The crossed legs make up the bottom part.

OK, let’s try an actual Japanese word spelled out in full. Ready?

kanji for tourists - nihon - japan

日本 Japan

日本
Nihon
Japan

Again, I’m sure you’re thinking “that’s impossible to remember!” But it’s not. Let’s look at the origin of each character, shall we?

First we have the character ni:

Second, we have the character hon:

Together the characters 日本 Nihon mean “sun origin,” or more poetically, “the land of the rising sun.” Easy, right?

So while you’re in Nihon, you’ll meet a lot of Nihon-jin — Japanese people.
They will be speaking Nihon-go — the Japanese language.
And if you travel with me, you’ll definitely drink some Nihon-shu — Japanese alcohol (sake).

I just learned 3 Japanese words and 4 #Japanese characters. So ready for my trip!

A Piece of Cake, Right?

If you book a guide, 90% of this is taken care of for you. And sure, you can just ignore all of this if you want to. But I think intellectually curious travelers really want to know more about the Japanese language and Japanese culture. I hope you see that there’s no need to be intimidated by the language barrier or the writing system in Japan.

This article is part of an ongoing series teaching Japanese Survival Phrases for Tourists. If you’d like to alerted when I publish new articles, now you can follow JapanThis.Tours. Updates only come once a month.

thank you in japanese

How do you say Thank You in Japanese?

Thank you in Japanese is arigatō gozaimasu. But there are other ways to say thank you Japanese. Let’s look at three of them!

Arigatō gozaimasu (polite, all-purpose)

ありがとうございます
arigatō  gozaimasu
Thank you

If you only learn one phrase in Japanese, this is it. It’s probably the most important word in the language. People say thank you a lot in Japanese. Way more than we do in English.

As the famous quote goes:

Learn it.
Love it.
Live it.


When you say arigatō gozaimasu, you should bow your head. Don’t put your hands together like you’re praying. That’s a Thai custom. In Japan, you bow your head when saying thank you.

A note about formality in Japanese. Most of my clients have heard arigatō before. And yes, this is usually translated as “thanks.” However, this is strictly for friends and family. It can be condescending if you use it to other people. For shop clerks and other strangers, always use arigatō gozaimasu.

Also, you’ll probably hear native speakers slur this phrase, especially in busy service jobs, like in convenience stores – often reducing it to something like aza-as’.

Pro-Tip: The final u is very slight. So arigatō gozaimas’ is closer to the native pronunciation.

Sumimasen (polite apologetic)

すみません
sumimasen
Excuse me.
I’m sorry.
Thank you.

If you need to cut in front of someone to get off the bus or get your waiter’s attention, you’re going to need this word. In this case, it is exactly like “excuse me.” Also, if you hold up a line or make some silly mistake, sumimasen is your go-to apology. But you can use this apologetic phrase as a casual “thank you.” It literally means “my shame will never end.”

Learn the bow on the left. You only need the middle and right one if you really get into trouble.

Sumimasen, arigatō gozaimasu (apologetic & grateful)

Let’s take your Japanese thank you to the next level.

If someone has gone out of their way to help you. You can say thank you by saying sumimasen. In this case, it means something like “sorry for the trouble.” If you want to be extra polite, I recommend combining these phrases to say sumimsen, arigatō gozaimsu! “Sorry for the trouble, thank you so much!”

Arigatō gozaimasu and sumimasen are the words you most need to say thank you in Japanese. And now that you can use sumimasen, you can also say excuse me and call waiters and shop staff, too.

Now, let’s look at some silly ways to say thank you in Japanese.

Arigataki shiawase ni zonji-masuru (polite samurai to lord)

有難き仕合せに存じまする
arigataki shiawase ni zonji-masuru
I humbly thank thee for granting me this kindness

If that English translation sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. This is an archaic, medieval expression used by samurai and I guarantee that unless you’re visiting Edo Wonderland, you will never hear it.

This tour guide is teaching tourists how to say “thank you” like a samurai!

Arigataki shiawase (casual samurai)

Because it’s a mouthful, you can shorten it to arigataki shiawase. Again, this is a ridiculous phrase, but if you make some Japanese friends while drinking, I guarantee you’ll make them laugh if you use this.

Suman, arigataki shiawase (apologetic, casual samurai)

Just as you can combine sumimasen and arigatō gozaimasu in a situation where someone has gone out of their way to help you. You can use suman, arigataki shiawase. This is actually casual Japanese, but it’s from the 1600s. People will let it slide.

Conclusion

Alright, those last ones were extremely silly and I suspect you’ll forget them right away. However, those first two phrases arigatō gozimasu and sumimasen are the most important two words you need to know when traveling to Japan. Please learn them. The Japanese don’t expect foreigners to understand their language, but you’ll bring many smiles to their faces if you can master a few polite phrases like thank you.

I’ll be posting more Japanese Survival Phrases for Travelers in the coming months, so please subscribe to JapanThis.Tours for future updates. I want to help you participate in Japanese culture on your trip, not just observe it.

Religion in Japan

What religion is Japan?
Okuninushi, one of Japan’s earliest civilization-building gods

Is Japan a Religious Country?

People always ask me “what religion is Japan?” Well, pretty much none. This answer may surprise you, given the importance of shrines and temples in the lives of modern Japanese society and the expected inclusion of these spiritual complexes in any visit to the country.

Yes and No

Japan is a secular nation that guarantees freedom of religion in its constitution. In fact, Japan is often cited as one of the most non-religious countries on earth. And unlike my country of origin, the United States, Japan takes its establishment clause very seriously – especially in light of the devastation so-called State Shintō and “emperor worship” brought upon the nation[i]. In fact, while most of my Japanese friends and family are respectful of spiritual practices, most of them see these as merely traditional acts. That is, these are cultural performances, not acts of deep religious devotion. So, no. Japan isn’t particularly religious at all.

That said, there is a joke popular among foreigners living in Japan. “Japanese people are born into Shintō, marry like Christians, and die as Buddhists.”[ii] This isn’t a reference to an individual’s spiritual growth from cradle to grave, but rather a reflection of Japan’s ancient syncretic religious tradition where all beliefs mesh well together.

First, Let’s Define Some Terms

神道
Shintō

Shintō
Literally, “the way of the gods” or “kami-ism”

Shintō is the native polytheistic religion of Japan. There are an infinite number of kami spiritual beings in the world. Some might be a beautiful bend in the river, a striking mountain peak, or local kami who protects the local rice harvest. Every human who has ever lived can theoretically be honored as a kami, so the number of kami is truly infinite and evergrowing.

Shintō has shrines.
仏教
Bukkyō

Buddhism
Imported from the Asian mainland, Buddhism was more of a philosophy than the animism of Shintō, but it too suggests that a theoretically infinite number of humans can reach enlightenment (that is, becoming a Buddha). Therefore, there are an infinite and evergrowing number of enlightened souls.

Buddhism has temples.
syncretism
syncretism
Syncretism is when two or more religious traditions blend and create a new culture. Shintō and Buddhism played very well together and basically merged into a unique Japanese spiritual outlook. That is to say, for the average person, kami and Buddha are the same[iii].

Shintō, Buddhism, and Other Religions in Japan

In Japan today, the trappings of Shintō and Buddhism are all around you. Shintō buildings are called 神社 jinja shrines. You can identify them by their distinctive 鳥居 torii gates, mirrors, lightning-shaped white paper decorations, and sacred ropes wrapped around sacred trees, gates, and often the shrine itself. Entering a Shintō religious complex requires ritual purification with water provided in special basins. Shrines also tend to have a lot of greenery and sacred pools or moats.

Buddhist お寺 o-tera temples, on the other hand, have no torii gates, usually don’t require ritual purification[iv], and 95% of the time have a huge statue of a Buddha inside the main hall of worship.

Hakone Shrine floating torii gate #JapanThis

In contemporary society, the most well-known functions of Shintō shrines are ceremonies like 七五三 shichi-go-san which literally means 7-5-3 and refers to the age at which children are brought to shrines for blessings. In pre-modern Japan, the infant mortality rate was so high that if a child lived beyond their third year, fifth year, and seventh year…well, that was something of a miracle and deserved to be celebrated. While Shintō considers death a spiritual defilement, Buddhism was OK with death and arrived with ideas regarding what happens after humans die[v]. This is why most cemeteries in Japan are Buddhist.

Nikkо̄ Rinnо̄-ji, a Buddhist temple with distinct Shintо̄ attributes.

So that explains a big part of the “Japanese are born Shintō and die Buddhist.” So, what about the other part? Well, neither Shintō nor Buddhism have ancient traditions of marrying people, but guess what? Abrahamic religions are all about getting up in people’s sex lives, so of course they have ancient traditions of marrying people. Western movies provided Japan with romantic scenes of marriages on the Silver Screen and voilà, the blushing bride in a white wedding dress[vi] became the dream of many a young Japanese girl. Today, the most popular type of wedding is the so-called Christian Wedding, which is essentially a secular version of a traditional western wedding.

japanese western wedding

Still Confused?

So, now you understand why “Japanese people are born Shintō, are married Christian, and die Buddhists.” And, hopefully you can see how these are just cultural traditions and not firmly held religious convictions. Which brings me to another anecdote I like to share. If you question a random person on the street in Tōkyō and ask them “what is your religion?” I’m fairly certain they will automatically reply “Buddhist.” However, if you press them about supernatural claims, they’ll probably admit to being non-religious or atheists. That said, they probably regularly pop into Shintō shrines if they pass one on the street, and they most likely do the same when passing by Buddhist temples.

As for other religions, Japan is basically 1% Christian (mostly foreigners) and 0.0016% Jewish (mostly foreigners). Although Muslim immigrants are increasing, the numbers are unclear (but the majority are also foreigners). All of this said, nearly 40% of Japanese people claim no belief in gods.


What is the Religion of Japan?

Like I said, Japan has long Shintō and Buddhist roots, it’s pretty much a secular nation that is tolerant of foreign religious practices. Given its syncretic, polytheistic tradition, people here tend to be very skeptical or even suspicious of monotheistic religions[vii], but if you’re respectful, you’ll get respect in return. In short, religion isn’t very important in modern Japan, yet you can see and experience its religious history and traditions everywhere.

If you want to know about the Shintō worldview in very ancient Japan, you might like my article Japanese Cosmogony. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Cosmogony[viii] is weird word. Anyhoo, if you’re interested in Japanese mythology (which I haven’t talked about at all here), give it a read. I think you’ll find it interesting!

Further Reading:


[i] Yes, we’re looking at you, Imperial Japan.
[ii] By the way, I’m not a fan of this trite saying. I’m just repeating it because other people repeat it ad nauseam.
[iii] In fact, there are special names for Shintō avatars of Buddhist saints and special names for Buddhist incarnations of Shintō kami.
[iv] If they do require purification, this is probably because of the blending of Shintō and Buddhism.
[v] Most sects used to teach reincarnation, but these days I think most Japanese Buddhists see death as pretty final.
[vi] The acceptance of the immaculate white wedding dress is kinda hilarious if you think about it. In traditional Japanese culture, a white kimono is what was used to dress a corpse for wakes. In fact, when samurai committed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment, they wore white kimono.
[vii] By definition, monotheistic religions are less tolerant than polytheistic, syncretic religions.
[viii] And its brother, cosmography.