What are the etiquette rules to follow when traveling to Japan?

Japan is one of the most welcoming and hospitable countries for most travelers to visit, however, its distinctive culture may be as enigmatic as it is fascinating for the first-time traveler.

To prevent any social blunders in your journey, we’ll help give you as many handy etiquette tips you’ll need before you head off on your journey to the land of the rising sun.

We’ll teach you as many cultural etiquettes that you need to know. From when you should take off your shoes, what to never do while eating with chopsticks when you should eat loudly when it’s appropriate to bow, as well as many other things.

Learning How to Give Gifts

When to Give Gifts

Whenever someone’s coming back from a trip for an extended period of time, the changing from one season to the next, and whenever someone purchases a brand new house are amongst many numerous reasons why gifts in Japan may be exchanged.

For a first-time visitor, it’s an excellent idea to bring some little presents from your country, particularly if you’re going to be staying with any of the local people, or just in case you would like to mention thank you’ to somebody throughout your stay. The simplistic gesture of giving someone a gift from your own country will be extremely appreciated. Think memorable key rings, chocolate candy bars, and different treats that come strictly from your country. You should avoid high-priced or extravagant gifts.

Use Both Hands

Exchanging gifts as well as name cards or business card continues to be a very important part of Japanese formal introductions (such as business meetings). You should always use both hands whenever receiving and giving cards or gifts of any sort.

Rules of Footwear

Taking Your Shoes Off

If a building contains a genkan (a sunken-foyer entrance), and there just happens to be shelves or rows of footwear next to the door, it should be an obvious sign that you’re expected to remove your shoes. You’ll also be expected to remove your shoes whenever you enter any private houses, traditional accommodation buildings (called minshuku or ryokan), as well as temples. Certain restaurants might have tatami (woven-straw matting) areas and will ask any guests to remove their shoes, as well as some historic sites as well as hostels. Whenever you’re asked to take off your footwear, this is not something that you should ever try to negotiate. (If you don’t like how your socks look or smell, you should think about obtaining yourself a brand new pair before your next trip to Japan.)

After removing your shoes, you’ll typically be given the choice to wear slippers to walk around the corridors with. It’s fine to wear slippers on wooden floorings and some other floorings, however, you must never have slippers on in a tatami room: take them off before stepping on the tatami and then place them at the entrance of the room.

Meeting and Salutations

Bowing

The best time to bow in a well-mannered way is after you meet somebody, thank them, or when you’re saying good-bye to them. The duration, depth and amount of how many times you’re expected to bow are a few things that non-Japanese people aren’t assumed to grasp. Japanese are unlikely to be offended if you don’t bow in perfection. If someone who’s Japanese bows to you, you can return the notion with a slight incline of your head and that will usually do just fine. Japanese also sometimes shake hands, however, it’s best for you to always wait for them to extend their hand out before thrusting yours forward.

Drinking & Eating

Using Chopsticks

There are a variety of things you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to the utilization of chopsticks. The most important things you should keep in mind are to never have your chopsticks standing straight up in a bowl of rice and also never use your chopsticks to pass food to someone else’s chopsticks. These actions are associated with rituals that are related to funerals and also associated with the dead. You should also avoid any action that may be associated with playing’ with your chopsticks (such as a pretending they’re drums, using them like a spear, waving them at the waiter, or using them so you can itch any part of your body).

Slurping

Slurping whenever you eat noodles in Japan is not uncommon whenever you’re eating them, it’s also a sign to let everyone know that you’re thoroughly enjoying your meal. Eating noodles and slurping will make sure fellow diners are noisily and fearlessly slurping away with you.

Discover Going Out to Eat in Japan

Eating Out

From izakayas (Japanese bar) to the tiny noodle stands, and the fine-dining restaurants, there’s something for anyone and every one no matter what budget you’re on. Here’s our guide to eating out in Japan.

Drinking

Whenever pouring drinks from a bottle that everyone’s sharing (sake for example), it’s customary that whoever’s pouring the drinks pours for others first, and you should also permit other people to pour yours for you. You don’t want to ever pour your drink into your glass when drinking with other people. It’s also a good idea to say kampai for Cheers!’ every time before you start drinking.

Tipping

Don’t worry about tipping in Japan. It’s not customary like it is in some other countries. If you leave additional money on the table when dining out, it will usually lead to a waiter that ends up chasing you down the road to give you your money back.

Table Manners

Saying itadakimas before you eat (it literally means I will receive’, however it’s a lot like saying bon appetit’), and saying gochisōsama deshita to show appreciation once you’ve finished eating. Make sure to have a good idea of how to say delicious’ (oishii) and other proper declarations throughout the entire meal as needed. This will help you be seen as more welcomed, appreciated, and beloved by the people who are serving you food.

Visiting Shrines & Temples

Etiquette

There are several Shintō shrines (jinja) and Buddhist temples (otera) across Japan and they’re mostly hospitable and open to guests, regardless if you’re a believer or not. These are still sacramental sites: speak quietly within the halls, don’t be poking around roped-off areas, and also avoid dressing as if you’re about to be hanging out on the beach.

Learning Rituals at the Shrine

There’ll be a water supply at the head of any shrine you go to. Before you go into the shrine, make sure to use the ladles provided so you can clean your hands by pouring water over them, and then pour the water into your hand so you can use the water to rinse your mouth (make sure to spit the water onto the ground and don’t spit the water back into where it came from).

Public Behaviour

Waiting for Public Transportation

Whenever it’s busy and everyone is waiting to board the train, the Japanese will line up in orderly fashion. Train station platforms usually have markings telling you where the carriage doors pull up and often have lines drawn near the platform to help show the direction of which ways the queues go.

Traveling on Public Transportation

It’s thought to be rude to talk on your cell phone when traveling on buses and trains. Announcements encourage all travelers to change their phones and put them on silent mode. Everyone tends to not speak loudly when traveling on public transportation, that way they don’t disturb any of their fellow passengers.

Blowing Your Nose is Rude

Don’t Sneeze

It’s thought to be extremely rude to sneeze whenever in public. You will also see some people wearing surgical looking masks to prevent spreading any germs, sickness, or ailments to any other people nearby.

Language Matters

Never Assume Someone Speaks English

It’s not very uncommon to find Japanese people who want to practice applying their English skills, however, English isn’t as commonly understood as some travelers expect and there are a lot of people who will be really uncomfortable or shy to practice speaking it. It’s best to not approach Japanese people with the belief they’re going to speak the same language as you.

Learn the Language

Whenever you meeting someone for the first time, try your best to try to introduce in Japanese, even if you’re awful at speaking the language. The easiest phrase you can try to remember when introducing yourself is haji me ma shi te. XXX desu. Which means “I’m XXX. Nice to meet you.”

Learning a few basic phrases and words in Japanese can help you out tremendously. Locals are going to be extremely impressed by your best attempt at trying to speak their language. Sumimasen (means excuse me, and can also be used to say sorry), arigatō (thank you), eigo ga hanasemasu ka (can you speak any English?), and wakarimasen (I don’t know) can all be very useful for some starter words and phrases.

Final Thoughts

Whenever you’re visiting another country remember that people aren’t expected to learn your language or traditions and you should be polite and thoughtful enough to learn theirs. It shows a great deal of respect and the locals will surely appreciate it. Being customary will always go a long way in helping you get along with new people and showing them that you do care about their traditions and culture.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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