When you visit Japan, you are most likely to see many of the following things but not many people know their names. All of the following things have a cultural significance and it might be great if you can surprise a Japanese friend or your fellow travelers with a bit of trivia!
Curtain hung at shop entrance; split curtain used to divide spaces in a house.
Noren are traditional Japanese fabric dividers hung between rooms, on walls, in doorways or windows. Usually, they have a vertical slit allowing for easier passage or viewing. In traditional restaurants and shops, a noren is put up when the business is ready to open for the day and is removed and put away at the end of business hours: an easy way to know if a store is open or close.
When you visit shrines, you will most likely see massive barrels placed on top of each other. Most breweries donate sake barrels to shrines for business prosperity. The shrines serve this nihonshu during various festivities and once empty, the barrels are placed together on top of each other for decoration (kazari-daru).
Random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and temples in Japan. Usually, you can drop a 100 yen coin in a donation box and pick one.
The fortunes are usually divided into five levels in ascending order of fortune: Dai-kichi (大吉), Kichi (吉), Chu-kichi (中吉), Sho-kichi (小吉), Ku (凶). If you get a Ku (bad fortune), you should tie it to a tree branch or pole that is close by to get rid of your bad luck!
Japanese lucky charms made using cloth intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner. From traffic safety, passing an exam, safe childbirth, or finding love, you can find a variety of these at most shrines. You should never open the cloth as it is disrespectful and the o-mamori will lose its power. These also make for great souvenirs!
Wooden plaques in temples or shrines used to write down your wishes or feelings of gratitude. These come in various shapes and often have animals or Shinto imagery that are associated with the shrine printed on them.
Sometimes, it’s fun just to see all the interesting things people wish for!
When you get seated in a restaurant, you will usually receive a wet towel to wipe your hands. This is called an o-shibori. Shiboru means to squeeze or wring. Considered one of the symbol’s of Japan’s hospitality, in winter, these are warm and in summer, icy cold. As much as you would like to wipe your face with a cold one in summer, don’t, as this is frowned upon!
Sugidama or Sakabayashi（杉玉、酒林）
A ball made of Japanese cedar (sugi) needles is hung in front of the brewery to signal that fresh nihonshu production is on its way. Depending on the region, the production process begins in early autumn and is complete by early to mid May. The sugidama changes its color over time from a fresh green to a brown indicating that nihonshu is now ready for consumption! Today, you see these outside restaurants that take pride in their nihonshu collection as well as shops selling mainly nihonshu.
More trivia on sake here.
A zigzag-shaped paper streamer, often seen attached to shimenawa or tamagushi (rope) at shrine entrances and used in Shinto rituals. A Shinto priest waves a haraegushi (a wand made up of many shide) over a person, item, or newly bought property, such as a building or car.
On your trip to Japan, challenge yourself and see if you remember these names.