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Japan is a treasure-house of history and culture. Visitors can admire the wealth of Japanese art and indulge in the delicious and interesting cuisine.

The Japanese can be equally intriguing. The most striking feature of Japan's population is it ethnic and cultural homogeneity. Tourists tend to stick out in a crowd, so don't be surprised if young children ask for your autograph.

ARTS

Gardens
Don't expect flowers, water fountains and flowing streams. In fact, grass rarely makes an appearance. The mossy rocks, gnarled roots and meandering paths found in a typical Japanese garden are all meticulously placed in a meaningful composition.

Chanoyu (or sado)
Meaning "way of tea" or tea ceremony, this tradition was used by meditating Buddhist monks to promote alertness. The preparation and drinking of the tea is conducted according to a highly stylized etiquette, requiring years of training. Samurai warriors participated in tea ceremonies as part of their mental training.

Shodo
Meaning "way of writing" or calligraphy, this art form is one of Japan's most treasured, cultivated by nobles, priests and samurai.

Ikebana
This art of flower arranging was developed in the 15th century and was originally used as part of the tea ceremony but now can be found in private homes.

Kabuki
One of Japan's most famous theatrical traditions, kabuki is loosely translated as avant-garde dance.

FOOD

Okonomiyaki
Meaning "cook what you like," okonomiyaki is a inexpensive food that resembles a pizza or pancake. The resemblance is only in form because the actual ingredients are your choice of meat, seafood and vegetables in a cabbage and vegetable batter.

Yakitori
Literally meaning grilled chicken, these skewered delights are the perfect accompaniment to beer and sake. Even though its literal definition includes chicken, several kinds of grilled meats are available at a yakitori restaurant.

Sushi and sashimi
Although sushi, raw fish, is popular in the west, nothing compares to the real thing. The two main types of sushi are: nigiri-sushi (served on a small bed of rice) and maki-sushi (served in a seaweed roll). Sashimi is only the fish, no rice. Expectedly, sushi bars, including the rotating variety, are abound in Japan.

Sukiyaki and shabu shabu
Sukiyaki is thin slices of beef cooked in a broth of soy sauce, sugar and sake with vegetables and tofu added. Shabu shabu is thin slices of beef and vegetables that are cooked in a light broth and tehn dipped in a variety of sesame seed and citrus-based sauces.

Tempura
Tempura actually originated from the Portugese traders in the 16th century. Good tempura is easily made by cooking pieces of fish and vegetables in a fluffy, non-greasy batter.

Fugu
The risk of fugu poisoning explains why "fugu," or blowfish, is eaten more for the thrill than the taste. Chefs who prepare fugu must undergo specific training.

LANGUAGE
Buy a phrasebook. Or stick with tour guides. Knowing just a few Japanese words and phrases can pay huge dividends. English is rarely used in Japan, especially outside of the cities. Even if the Japanese understand you, their shyness will prevent them from speaking English. If you think speaking Japanese is impossible, try reading and writing it. Again, buy a phrasebook.
PEOPLE

Even though you are viewed as the "outside person," the Japanese will overwhelm you with excessive politeness. Long-term visitors of Japan often complain that this overuse of courtesy masks the Japanese people's highly ethnocentric attitude towards foreigners. Regardless, enjoy the cordialities. They are much appreciated when lost in a crowded city.

FESTIVALS
Local festivals are a main part of authentic Japanese culture. Festivals are usually related to the seasonal planting, growing and harvesting of rice. Denizens dress in traditional garb and perform cultural dances. Check with tourist offices for festival dates and details.
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