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Japan's Family Customs 





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Ancient Japanese Museum



There are certain times in Japan when holidays appear one after another, such as Golden Week, from the end of April to the beginning of May.  Other full scale holidays are at the end of the year (New Year's) and the middle of August (Bon festival).

Vacations are concentrated during these three periods.  As a result, 3 times in the year, the throng of people on transportation facilities and roads returning home to visit parents and coming back again, unfailingly becomes an issue.  Travel abroad during this period reaches a peak at international airports such as New Tokyo International Airport (Narita), which is invariably congested with people.

There are businesses adopting flexible holidays to avoid the crowd.  Taking annual vacations has become an accepted company policy even taking days off has now become easier.  An amendment of the Labor Standard Law, carried out in April 1997, implemented a 40-hour week.  Consequently, the era of a 5-day work week has finally gained ground.

Based on the activities and polled opinions of those 15 years and older, the shorter the holiday, the more one indulges in pastimes like gambling.  When the holiday is 2 to 3 days long, gambling decreases and activities such as driving, enjoying the outdoors and outdoor sports increase.  When the holiday stretches to 3 or more days, domestic and international travel shows a sharp increase, as well as activities in the areas of self-enrichment including family communication, reading and studying.

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Boys with Playstation


The unique sense of creativity of the Japanese and their penchant for electronic technology have spawned a new way of enjoying leisure in an area called electro-leisure, such as karaoke, animation, computer game software and pachinko.  With the shift to economy travel, these types of leisure are expected to become even more popular.

Pachinko, or pinball, is played on a vertical glass-covered machine that has a number of holes in the panel.  The object of the game is to get the ball into a lucky hole, which results in more balls being emitted by the machine.  Collected balls can be exchanged for prizes.  Pachinko was formerly an entertainment for a select few in Japan, but is now enjoyed by all types of people, even young women.  It is considered to be the king of amusement for the masses and the numbers of those who become completely preoccupied with and dependent upon pachinko have been on the rise.

Karaoke is a Japanese invention that has been sweeping the world.  It is a system where musical accompaniment to a song is prerecorded on a compact or laser disc.  A song is selected and played.  One sings into a microphone equipped with echo effects to the selected song.  The range and tempo can be altered at will.  Karaoke equipment run by inserting coin was made in the early 1970's.  Songs can now be freely selected by remote control.  There are even karaoke communications equipment that are connected to the telephone.


Horse racing has become one of the gambling favorites to flourish on a par with pachinko, which is unprecedented in the world.  The betting tickets sold by the Japan Racing Association (JRA), a special body under supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, have been marking profits yearly.  The only year of decline was in 1995, the year of the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in Kobe, but it rebounded the following year to mark a plus growth of 3.98 trillion yen (US $36.6 billion).  The rate of increase has again slowed again.

A single horse racing event by the JRA runs for 8 days at 10 racing tracks throughout Japan, for a total of 36 times for 288 days.  In addition, local horse racing, carried out by the various local municipalities are held at 30 regional racing tracks throughout Japan.

Go and shogi are representative of Japanese traditional indoor games.  Go is played by 2 players.  Black and white stones are alternately placed on a board with the objective of capturing the opponent's stones and covering the board with one's own stone color.

Shogi resembles chess somewhat; the 2 players face each other.  The pieces are moved alternately, the objective being to capture the opponent's king.  Shogi originated in India and made its way to China.  The difference in the Japanese version  is that a captured piece can be used as one's own.  With the diversity of TV games, amusement and leisure, the number of those who play go and shogi has decreased to less than 10%.

Although many Japanese enjoy traveling overseas, karaoke, and pachinko in their free time, they also enjoy traditional pastimes.  Cherry blossom flower viewing is an all-time favorite in the spring, as the blossoms unfold from south to north.  Many also pursue the scarlet-tinged leaves in the autumn.

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Information provided by the Japanese Embassy


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