From why quiet time rocks to treating everyone with kindness and respect, there’s a lot we can learn from the Japanese. Exposing kids to the rich and varied aspects of the culture can be as simple as attending a festival or stopping by a Botanic or Japanese Tea Garden for stunningly authentic landscapes. Or, it can be taken one step further (many steps, actually!) with a trip to Japan. Keep reading to discover the life lessons that’ll await you during your travels.
Be Clean: No Shoes in the House!
Traditional Japanese houses, called ryokans, have tan straw tatami mats on the floors instead of wood or carpeting. Slippers are worn in the house and shoes are expected to be left at the door, toes facing out. Many traditional homes also have rubber or plastic slippers for the shower and separate slippers for the toilet (toilets and showers are separated). Many public shrines and temples abide by the no-shoe rule as well.
Be Quiet: Mum’s the Word
Tokyo has a population of nearly 14 million people, and trains and buses are packed to the gills. Surprisingly though, everyone is quiet: being aware of others around you, and being courteous of their space, is a valuable lesson to learn. Kids realize they are not invisible—people can hear and see them, and they learn to act accordingly.
Be Respectful, Be Kind
Japanese culture is all about showing reverence to everyone. Restaurants, shops, and some homes have little curtains that force you to bow before entering—it doesn’t matter who you are or what your status may be, you’ll need to show respect. When you are served food on the street, it is delivered with a bow. Little acts of kindness are everywhere—in the paper flower attached to gift wrapping, in the special calligraphy on the temple entrance ticket, and in the gold flakes dusted on the ice cream cone.
Be Accountable: Pack in, Pack out
Garbage cans are few and far between in urban spaces, which forces people to be accountable and responsible for their own trash. The streets, train platforms, shopping areas are all pristine as a result. When you have to carry your trash, you become more considerate in regards to packaging.
Be One with Nature: Breath in, Breathe Out
There is one consistent thing about many cities in Japan: nature lives everywhere. The Japanese commemorate every season, often with a flower or snow representing that time of year, and celebrations highlight the changing of nature’s cycles. From walking around a sculpted garden to strolling in the woods to visiting a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple, green spaces and natural loveliness exist everywhere—urban or country, year-round.
Be Mindful: Waste Not Want Not
Wasting food—especially rice—is considered bad manners. Children are taught to not take more food than they can eat. Slurping, however, is fine when it comes to noodle-y pleasures.
Be Celebratory: Festivals & Culture
Japan has many festivals, or matsuri, all year long that celebrate children, the changing of the seasons, the growing of rice, ancestors and more. One ceremony not to miss while in Japan is the tea ceremony, a ritual that involves a series of actions to prepare, present and partake in a cup of green tea.
Be Open: Experience Variety
There are so many different types of places you can stay while in Japan, and it’s fun to experience a mixture. Try a capsule hotel in Kamakura; a Godzilla-themed hotel, a robot hotel in Toyko, an Airbnb in Osaka, a traditional ryokan with sliding paper walls and tatami floors in Hakone or the luxe Four Seasons in Kyoto, complete with koi pond, swimming pool and tea house.
Get There: Make It Happen
If you don’t want to do the planning yourself, Abercrombie & Kent has many inimitable family-friendly adventures to choose from that feature Japanese culture.
— Wendy Altschuler